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Case studies

Enabling industry to exploit new analytical techniques for better imaging of organic electronics

The challenge

New advanced materials need new, improved analytical techniques to provide greater insight into their composition at the nanoscale, which is critical for fabrication and material performance. However, industry needs the confidence to accept and adopt new techniques, before investing in the instruments to exploit them.

The solution

In 2006, we started a measurement programme on sputtering by cluster ion beams for 3D imaging of organic electronics. Working with 40 partners from industry, we have published 23 papers on cluster sputtering and secondary ion emission and provided vital information enabling the method to be reliable, reproducible and trusted by industry.

Importantly, our research unequivocally demonstrated that argon cluster sputtering is superior to C60 sputtering, which was popular prior to our research, but damaged many organic materials and failed completely for organic electronic material. This information informed critical research and development decisions and provided the catalyst for the field and commercial argon cluster sources rapidly evolved for both SIMS and XPS.

The impact

Our research provided instrument manufacturers such as Kratos, Thermo, ION-TOF, PHI and Ionoptika with the direction and confidence to develop argon cluster ion sources, which needed significant R&D investment. Kratos, Thermo and ION-TOF have sold over 200 of these ion guns with commercial values between £150-250k each. This level of consumer confidence in a technology only a few years old is directly attributable to the work carried out at NPL.

On top of this, GlaxoSmithKline have invested more than £300k to use 3D SIMS to study drug disposition in cells and tissue at high spatial resolution and made a substantial co-investment in a project led by NPL to build a revolutionary new instrument, the 3D nanoSIMS. ION-TOF and Thermo Scientific are building this new instrument, which will become a new product.

“…The pioneering research at NPL showed unequivocally that argon clusters are superior. Following this research and the invited talk by (Dr Ian) Gilmore at SIMS Europe 2010, ION-TOF focused on the rapid development of an argon cluster ion beam. This has been an outstandingly successful product selling over 80 units with values of around €200k each. This is obviously commercially important to ION-TOF but on the wider economic scale has enabled the many industry sectors we serve automotive, speciality chemicals, organic electronics, pharmaceuticals, coatings, agrochemicals entirely new insights into their product innovation”.

Dr Ewald Niehuis, Managing Director of ION-TOF

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