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Close Tolerance Screen Printing is a Key Element to Process Control

Die Cutter SystemFor years there has been ongoing debate about whether the screen printing process is more of a science, or an art. Screen printing is definitely a science—supported by artful wisdom from the user. The science is the ability to select specific tools and materials with known or predictable parameters, in order to arrive at a targeted production goal. The art of virtually all technical printing is knowing in advance the challenge points, so that your scientific selections are allowed to succeed. Process control centers on this. Component materials are chosen for their attributes, and production equipment is selected according to its capacity to make the best of these materials.

Two of the most sought-after product areas today—Capacitive Touchscreens and Thin-Film Solar Cells—are heavily involved in the use of highly-precise roll-to-roll screen printing. Each requires the statistical planning required to successfully produce products with a high-yield return in mind.

Capacitive Touchscreens have become the mainstay of interactive display devices, such as cell phones, hand-held audio/video players, and computer monitor screens. At the start, rigid substrates such as glass have been used, employing typical transparent conductive oxides (TCOs) such as Indium Tin Oxide (ITO), along with specially-made silver conductive ink to create the interlayer action from the touch of a finger. But increasingly, glass is being replaced by polyester film. PET is thinner, lighter and easier to assemble in the downstream process. Although a little less transparent than glass, the potential for higher production rates makes it the forthcoming choice for finishing electronic goods that fit in your pocket.

Thin Film Solar Cells are also coming on in a big way. Originally, thin film on glass was also the material of choice for rigid panels, dating back to the 1980s with the use of amorphous silicon, or a-Si. Now, CIGS (Copper-Indium-Gallium-diSelinide) is becoming popular due its proven increased electrical output percentage return. As with capacitive displays, solar is going flexible, using a-Si, CIGS and other methods—and roll-to-roll manufacturing accounts for the largest jump in development activity. Base substrates are most often selected from polyimide, stainless steel and aluminum foils. From a screen printing point-of-view, electricity collection made by applying precise silver conductive ink traces over the top of the TCO layer of the cell is a proven, cost-effective way to achieve high performance and lowered trace resistance.

Preco’s long-standing knowledge for controlling the web screen printing process allows us to produce custom-outfitted machinery to serve specific industry needs. We start with our basic MTS-Series screen print system, which features x-y-theta CCD camera vision registration, and user programmable screen and squeegee functions. In other words, positional accuracy and print quality are staples of our entry-level design. From there, we recognize that every customer has an application that can be different—and most often is different—from another end-user’s requirement. Tailoring the manufacturing line for print format, specific web handling issues, the drying methods of ink coatings, process cleanliness and inspection are among the concerns that we address in collaborative design discussions with customers.

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