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Measuring large-scale, fine-feature printed electronics

The challenge

Highly-parallel manufacturing (HPM) use is growing rapidly and expanding markets already need more efficient and more traceable manufacturing processes. Existing markets demand advanced HPM-based products in new areas and with much higher manufacturing accuracy than previously sought.

The ongoing growth in HPM has created an urgent need for improved quality control, as current inspection metrology could not solve the conflicts between metre scale substrate size, high throughput, and sub-micrometre scale 3D feature dimensions. Crucially, metrology was poorly matched to SME innovator capital budgets and metrology skills.

The solution

Working with partners, the project has advanced the instrumentation state of the art for each of the key dimensional metrology objectives of the project. The workplan covered truly novel techniques and methods that have been adapted to and introduced into HPM markets.

As well as studying the feasibility of using a point-array sensing concept, NPL developed a departure detection sensor that simultaneously measures the critical dimension, orientation and displacement of a 1D diffraction grating. This technique is suitable for in-line metrology in a R2R manufacturing environment and it complements the DFM/NILT scatterometry work as an alternative method for detecting the departure of grating critical dimensions from nominal.

The impact

The project is designed to directly address the most challenging metrology barriers to creating product value in HPM today.

The project, therefore, benefited users through several direct pathways:

  1. Wider community: Significant reductions in the economic and environmental cost of living in a range of targeted areas (solar energy, medical tests, stock control) through increased production efficiency in key HPM product applications.
  2. Industry: Immediate gains in quality control capabilities, and competitive advantage, for HPM stakeholders through smarter, traceable defect/function correlation, metrology specification and application, and understanding of the behaviour of substrates in process. Progress will also be made towards large-area inspection techniques which hold the promise of creating step-changes in substrate inspection.
  3. Industry: New and disruptive production processes in HPM enabled by better inline monitoring of substrate, defects and features, including feedback control.
  4. Metrology community: Dramatically increased collaboration and knowledge transfer across previously isolated metrology communities and rationalisation/upskilling of key actors; supply of artefacts and guidance; improved NMI visibility and traceability uptake; improved stakeholder engagement across the technology or manufacturing level range, in order to focus and sponsor academic innovation.
  5. Standardisation: Identification of opportunities to strengthen existing specification standards and to merge existing roadmaps according to stakeholder needs.

Find out more about NPL's Dimensional surface metrology research

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