The birth of Semiconductor 2.0

The birth of Semiconductor 2.0

Summary: According to several articles in the press, an Austrian company has opened a new chip printing factory. But there is a twist. The chips produced by this factory, dubbed Semiconductor 2.0 by the company, will be organic semiconductors, and will be produced by inkjet printers. According to the company, the new factory will be able to produce 40,000 square meters of semiconductors per year, mainly for the biotech, clean tech, and defense industries.

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TOPICS: Processors
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According to several articles in the press, an Austrian company has opened a new chip printing factory. But there is a twist. The chips produced by this factory, dubbed Semiconductor 2.0 by the company, will be organic semiconductors, and will be produced by inkjet printers. Here are two links to the CNET News.com and to the Red Herring comments. According to the company, the new factory will be able to produce 40,000 square meters of semiconductors per year, mainly for the biotech, clean tech, and defense industries.

This new factory has been opened by Nanoident in Linz, Austria. And below is a picture showing the structure of Nanoident's organic sensors (Credit: Nanoident, via Nanotechnology Now (July 5, 2005). And here is a link to a larger version).

The structure of Nanoident's organic sensors

Michael Kanellos gives some technical details in his CNET News.com report.

A traditional factory that can produce 40,000 square meters of silicon computer chips would cost about $1.3 billion and require about 5,000 employees, he said in an interview. The Nanoident factory costs about $10 million and can be run by about 50 people.
Organic semiconductors, however, won't function as memory chips in computers or as processors. They are far slower and degrade over time. Instead, organic semiconductors will be targeted at one-time-only applications such as water purity testers: insert a water drop and the chip will analyze the chemicals floating inside of the drop.

And here are additional details about the fabrication process.

One of the key differences between regular and organic semiconductors is how transistors get laid down. In standard chips, lithography machines sketch a circuit pattern. Trenches are then dug into silicon and filled with metal through a complex series of chemical spraying and etchings. With organic semiconductors, 128 inkjet nozzles spray a pattern onto foil or polymer. Researchers, though, have to account for interactions between the ink and the different layers, and the performance character of the ink.

In the Red Herring article, Adena DeMonte is more focused on the possible applications of such organic chips.

Printed electronics has plenty of potential applications. The technology uses a standard ink-jet printing process to print semiconductors onto polymer, or plastic-like materials. It makes it possible to create electronics that are bendable and in some cases cheap enough to be disposable.

But according to Wasiq Bokhari, the CEO of Bioident Technologies, Inc., a subsidiary of Nanoident based in Menlo Park, California, margins for displays are too low. He wants to focus on "on printed electronics applications for biometrics and chemical agent diagnostics."

For instance, Bioident's "lab on chip" technology turns a small, printed electronics chip into a tiny mobile lab. The chip can use a small blood sample to determine if a soldier has been contaminated with toxins, or it can be put in water to test pollutant levels. Instead of hauling heavy equipment around to tabulate the results, the chips can be inserted into a BlackBerry-sized mobile device that can send results back to a full-sized lab for further examination.

You also should read Scott Snowden's article for the Reg Hardware, which contains two photos of the printer units and adds that the fabrication process is very eco-friendly.

Unlike silicon components that often result in waste by-products, the materials used in this new method of production are not damaging to the environment, Nanoident claimed. Because the construction process has to be very precise, no unnecessary product over-matter is manufactured.
Nanoident also claimed the 'ink' is absolutely 100 per cent environmentally friendly. The nanoparticles, for example, are manufactured from silver and contain no additional dangerous or hazardous chemicals, it said. But because these semiconductors are actually so very, very small, the disposal of any product using these components actually depends on how the whole product is disposed of.

So the factory and the technology are ready. But will Nanoident find customers? Time will tell.

Sources: Michael Kanellos, , March 13, 2007; Adena DeMonte, Red Herring, March 13, 2007; Scott Snowden, The Reg Hardware, March 13, 2007; and various websites

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Topic: Processors

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