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FlexTech Alliance Partners with 4D Technology to Develop a New Metrology System for Roll-to-Roll Electronics Manufacturing

Dec 19, 2012

FlexTech Alliance is awarding 4D Technology of Tucson, Ariz., a contract to develop an optical system capable of high-resolution mapping of surface topography and defects on a moving, flexible web. Funding development of the in situ metrology system addresses a current shortcoming in roll–to-roll (R2R) electronics manufacturing and will enable new, real time levels of process control and yield enhancement. The $956,000 development project is expected to be completed in early 2014.

Surface metrology and defect detection of web materials in R2R manufacturing are well-known needs in the flexible electronics industry. The FlexTech Alliance-funded project’s primary focus is on analysis and measurement of transparent substrates, but results will be applicable to translucent and reflective web materials as well.

“Key parameters for substrates used in R2R electronics manufacturing are surface roughness, defect density, and cleanliness, all of which are difficult to measure with high-resolution on moving substrates,” said Malcolm J. Thompson, PhD, chief technical advisor to FlexTech Alliance. “This project with 4D Technology was initiated in order to upgrade the equipment industry’s capability to provide a metrology tool that can be integrated into a manufacturing line.”

James Millerd, PhD, President of 4D Technology, stated that “The new metrology system, as an on-line instrument, will register, identify and classify defects for pre-processing and post-processing of transparent flexible web materials. This will help overcome current manufacturing obstacles by replacing qualitative specs and visual inspection methods with quantitative specs supported by data acquisition and analysis.”

By partnering on this project, FlexTech Alliance and 4D will allow suppliers and customers of web materials to agree upon and implement practical specs and quality metrics that ensure incoming and outgoing materials consistently meet requirements at the lowest possible cost. The team undertaking the project is comprised of industry professionals with backgrounds in photonics, optical instrumentation, software algorithms, thin film barriers, polymer chemistry, and thin film optics.

The FlexTech Alliance R&D program is supported by the U.S. Army Research Laboratory (ARL), based in Adelphi, MD.