A little, big problem for the manufacturing economy

September 2012

In order find a solution to the damaging effect of nano defects on the emerging market of flexible electronics, the European Commission has awarded €7.25 Million to a group of scientists, including those from the North Eastern organisation, Centre for Process Innovation Limited.

The European manufacturing economy needs to find a solution to the problem of defects if it is going to capitalise on the growing market for flexible electronics. This is because flexible technology, such as solar modules and phone screens , are vulnerable to the everyday elements of our environment, and the coatings used to protect them are less effective the more defects they contain.

Holly Peacock, communication manager for the NanoMend project, said “By developing a barrier that enhances the resilience of plastic electronics to weather, Centre for Process Innovation Limited will play a key role in transforming this technology into real world applications.”

Defects can take the form of contamination by fine dust particles, or pin holes up to one hundred-thousand times finer than a human hair. Even at this size, such holes can allow gas to squeeze through the protective coating and damage the quality and lifespan of the product underneath.

This phenomena causes the food and drinks within environmentally friendly paper packaging to go off quicker, as well as the accelerated degradation of solar modules.

As a part of the NanoMend project, scientists in academia and industry are developing defect imaging, detection and cleaning technologies designed for high-speed manufacturing of these new products.

Professor Liam Blunt from the University of Huddersfield, NanoMend’s project co-ordinator, said “The key challenge facing the project is overcoming the conflict between the speed at which the substrate rolls through the production machine and the resolution of the defect detection system, so that it is simultaneously possible to identify defects down to the nano-scale without slowing down the production. Achieving this will involve integrating defect detection, cleaning and repair technologies into fast paced, continuous
manufacturing lines.”

NanoMend will establish two working pilot lines to demonstrate it’s technology. One will be developed for the manufacturing lines of polymer coated packaging at Stora Enso. This is because fewer defects in the coating that covers paper packaging will allow the shelf life of drinks in cartons to be extended using fewer resources. This will have the two fold environmental benefits of preserving resources, and reducing the volume of food that needs to thrown away.

The other will be for the manufacturing lines of Swiss manufacturer of flexible solar modules, Flisom AG, where it will be used to detect and correct defects within solar modules. This is in order to increase their efficiency, lifespan, and consequently, affordability for the consumer.

A mix of industrial and academic partners from across Europe have been working on the four year NanoMend since it begun, in January of 2012.