Information technology

Printed transistor breakthrough will lead to low-cost electronic devices

4 December 2007

Silicon Valley company Kovio has introduced what it says is the world's first "all-printed high-performance silicon thin-film transistor (TFT)". Low-cost printed transistors will make it feasible to integrate electronics into everyday consumer items and consumables, including medicine containers and hospital supplies.

Kovio says that the performance of its printed transistors significantly exceed that of previously reported all-printed TFTs using either organic or inorganic semiconductors.

This announcement was made during a presentation at IDTechEx Printed Electronics USA 2007 in November.

Based on breakthroughs in nanotechnology and materials science, Kovio has developed electronic inks, the equivalents of colour inks for graphics printing. These functional electronic inks, which include silicon, doped silicon, metals, and insulators, enable electronic components to be printed onto a substrate, replacing the traditional items such as computer chips, other components and wiring and soldering on circuit boards.

Combining functional electronic inks with high-resolution graphics printing technologies, Kovio has printed high-performance silicon TFTs at a fraction of the cost of conventional lithography-based silicon technology.

The significantly lower cost is possible as a result of additive digital printing processes, lower capital expenditures and faster cycle time. Furthermore, Kovio's technology is particularly attractive from an environmental and energy consumption standpoint.

The initial target application includes low-cost RFID tags for labelling single items. This significantly reduces the cost of item-level tagging required for meaningful adoption in various markets, including retail, consumer products, healthcare, manufacturing and transportation.

To accelerate the commercialization of its technology, Kovio also announced that it has signed two separate joint development and supply agreements with Toppan Forms Co. Ltd., a world leader in printing businesses, printable electronics and digital information technologies, and Cubic Transportation Systems, Inc., a subsidiary of Cubic Corporation, the world's leading turnkey solution provider of automated fare collection systems for public transport.

Masanori Akiyama, president and CEO of Toppan Forms said, "By combining our capabilities with Kovio, intelligence can be built into everyday items, enabling the integration of pervasive networked devices for information collection and distribution, a key requirement for the advent of the ubiquitous society."

"With Kovio's all-printed silicon-based TFT technology, we believe we can continue to pioneer new levels of convenience and reliability for public transit riders, while further reducing the cost associated with fare collection, such as reducing the cost of limited-use smart cards for our transit agency customers," said Walt Bonneau Jr., senior vice president and general manager of Cubic Corporation. "We're committed to building upon our history of successful performance in the deploying of agency and regional transit smart card fare collection systems in the United States, in addition to many other projects worldwide."

"By combining the enabling performance of silicon with the cost structure of printing, Kovio offers a true extension to item-level tagging that the current silicon industry can't achieve," said Amir Mashkoori, CEO and chairman of Kovio. "We're solving the fundamental issues that have limited the industry's penetration into existing potentially explosive markets while opening up market opportunities that weren't previously possible and bringing intelligence into everyday things."

Kovio expects to start shipment of products by the end of 2008.

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