Scrona claims the first multi-nozzle electrostatic printhead for volume manufacturing, including semiconductor and display components.
Scrona, a 3D print spinout from ETH Zurich in Switzerland, has completed a $9.6 million funding round it will use to industrialize a novel printing technology using MEMs-based micro-fabricated printhead technology. Target markets include semiconductor manufacturing and high-end displays.
The company claims its technology is the industry’s first multi-nozzle electrostatic printhead for volume manufacturing with “unprecedented” printing resolution in the sub-micrometer range. For example, resolution and layer thickness control of Scrona’s technology enables printing of quantum-dot RGB color filters for high-brightness, full-color microLED displays in augmented reality glasses used in gaming and metaverse applications.
Patrick Galliker, Scrona’s co-founder and CEO, said the key to its printhead technology is resolution and viscosity, plus the ability to customize and scale the printhead to thousands of nozzles. In a normal piezo-based inkjet printhead, force is created inside the head rather than the nozzle exit, creating limitations in terms of print resolution and viscosity. “We’re not using a piezo element,” Galliker said in an interview. “Instead, we’re using the electrical properties of the liquid. So the liquid is pulled rather than pushed, which allows us to achieve better precision with 100 times more resolution.”
The resolution claimed is as fine as 0.5µm, with viscosity greater than 10,000 cps (centipoise) – compared to typically 50µm and less than 50 cps for a piezo-based inkjet.
Scrona’s technology is based on an electrostatic ejection principle providing very fine, submicron-scale printing and jetting, while allowing the use of various ink materials–metals, dielectrics, organics and biomaterials–with inks more than 100 times more viscous than those used in conventional inkjet printheads. Scrona said its approach provides greater flexibility while reducing the cost of manufacturing processes. The technology also allows the use of inks with dissimilar properties from the same printhead with high resolution and throughput.
“Scrona is enabling customers to digitally print…on any material, at scale, improving the speed, accuracy and cost of manufacturing today and tomorrow’s innovative products,” Galliker said. “We want to introduce this technology to the electronics industry.”
A key challenge in semiconductor packaging involves redistribution layers that require a complex, 22-step fabrication process that includes extensive tooling, long production cycles, multiple suppliers and material limitations. “With our process, this can be done in just two steps,” Galliker claimed. First, “our NanoDrip printing, and then an oven cure. This allows immediate and fixed-cost ability to adapt to new production runs, plus potential increased performance using new materials.”
Scrona’s business model aims to deliver printhead technology IP to both research institutes, printhead manufacturers and Tier-1 equipment vendors supplying the chip and display sectors. “Our core knowledge is the printhead technology IP,” said Galliker. “Companies will then put this into their equipment.” The startup is currently working with Silicon Austria Labs and the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology during its initial market-entry phase.
The 3D printing technology “can go into mass production manufacturing markets,” Galliker added. “Our goal is not to focus on a single application, so we’ll work with partners and integrators to get this to different markets.”
The first production-ready printheads will be available in about two years as potential customers evaluate the technology. Scrona expects the display market to be another key user, particularly for microLEDs and OLEDs.
Compared with conventional inkjet technology, Scrona claims its printhead offers printing resolution 100 times higher and high-speed printing with 10-fold greater ejection frequency. Smaller droplets mean faster drying and, for 3D printing, nanometer-layer thickness control. The MEMS printhead also can be customized and is dynamically programmable.
The $9.6 million Series A funding includes $6.7 million from investors led by AM Ventures and syndicate partners that include TRUMPF Venture, Verve Ventures and Manz GmbH Management Consulting and Investment along with a $2.9 million grant from the Swiss Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation.
This article was originally published on EE Times.
Nitin Dahad is a correspondent for EE Times, EE Times Europe and also Editor-in-Chief of embedded.com. With 35 years in the electronics industry, he’s had many different roles: from engineer to journalist, and from entrepreneur to startup mentor and government advisor. He was part of the startup team that launched 32-bit microprocessor company ARC International in the US in the late 1990s and took it public, and co-founder of The Chilli, which influenced much of the tech startup scene in the early 2000s. He’s also worked with many of the big names—including National Semiconductor, GEC Plessey Semiconductors, Dialog Semiconductor and Marconi Instruments.