How Balloons Are Being Used in the Electronic Manufacturing Process

Curved devices are used to make everyday objects, like contact lenses. In a similar model, the technology of the future calls for electronics that can be in a nonplanar format. Nonplanar electronics have been impossible to create — until now. The latest manufacturing news is that curvy electronics are now a reality.

A team of researchers has developed a new method for manufacturing curvy electronics using a balloon. As manufacturing trends demand the need for curvy electronics, this process can meet those needs and shape the field of electronic manufacturing.

Using a Balloon to Make Curvy Electronics

Researchers from the University of Colorado Boulder and the University of Houston collaborated to find a way to manufacture curvy electronics. They tested many existing manufacturing processes, but none of them worked because the methods were designed to create two-dimensional, flat electronics.

The team developed their own method, called conformal additive stamp (CAS) printing. In this process, an inflated elastomeric latex balloon is coated with a urethane rubber, which is a sticky substance. This is then used like a stamp to push down on pre-fabricated electronics. This balloon picks up the electronics and prints them onto curvy surfaces.

In the experiment, the team reported that CAS printing could be used to create photodetector arrays, silicon pellets, hemispherical solar cells, smart contact lenses and small antennas. They manufactured a hemispherical solar cell that captures more light than its flat counterpart.

The researchers used a manual version of the CAS printer to manufacture their prototypes, but they also created an automatic printer that can scale up production. This will make it easier for a company to produce curvy electronics for mass sales.

The Future of Electronic Manufacturing

As ideas for new electronics emerge, printing these electronics into a 3D shape is becoming more of a need. This new method of CAS printing has potentially filled that need.

Devices of the future are stepping away from the rigid planar model to be stretchy, soft and thin. Many ideas for curvy electronics will be useful in the biomedical industry to integrate into the human body. For example, curvy electronics could be made as health-monitoring tape or hemispherical cameras for advanced images.

Successfully creating curvy electronics will change the way people think about electronic manufacturing. This new technology can benefit society in a number of ways, such as in medicine. The fact that this technology is here, in the form of CAS printing, makes for an exciting future in electronic manufacturing. In the coming years, the possibilities for this technology will continue to widen.

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