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Panasonic Electronic Materials | The world isn’t flat and rectangular … So why are our electronics?

Andy Behr, Technology Manager, Panasonic Electronic Materials

The simple and direct answer is - because this is how we have always made them. And, for the last 80 years or so, this planar approach has served humanity pretty well. IC chips are flat and rectangular. Circuit boards are flat and rectangular. Displays are flat and rectangular. And we make these things by the millions! However, it’s challenging for designers to create alternative form-factor devices when all the primary functional components available are hard, flat, and rectangular.

But, as Bob Dylan sang, the times they are a-changing. Creative companies have realized that there’s an enormous and emerging demand for new form factors across a wide variety of industry verticals. Advances in printed electronics, 3D printing, additive manufacturing, roll-to-roll processing and soft electronics are enabling new devices in sectors as diverse as medical/wellness/healthcare, automotive, aerospace, robotics, extended reality, sports, fashion and more.

But there are significant challenges to be addressed. For example, conventional circuit board fabrication and assembly have had decades to optimize the entire manufacturing process and supply chain based on panel formats to create reliable circuit assemblies in a stream-lined and cost-effective manner. The materials used in these processes generally require a high degree of chemical and temperature resistance to survive manufacturing processes like copper etching, multilayer lamination and reflow soldering. It’s clear that, if new form-factor circuits will be manufactured using all or part of the established printed circuit board fabrication and assembly infrastructure, new classes of materials will be required.

One way that Panasonic is contributing to this new form-factor evolution is through innovative materials development. Researchers at Panasonic Industrial division headquarters in Osaka, Japan have invented a truly novel polymer technology designed to drive the development of softer, more pliable, and even stretchable electronic circuits. Early work in this field had borrowed commercially available soft and stretchable polymers intended for other applications, primarily thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU) and silicone. While both materials are soft and stretchable, each has significant challenges for use in pliable circuit assemblies. For example, TPUs have generally very low-temperature online streamlined resistance (130°C or less) and suffer from hysteresis (the permanent deformation after strain, such as stretching.) Silicones generally don’t play nice with other electronic materials and addressing compatibility issues can be a headache for designers and fabricators.

The proprietary polymer system from Panasonic Electronic Materials features some very attractive characteristics. It has very high-temperature resistance, with a thermal degradation temperature above 300°C. It has a high surface energy and is high-temperature compatible with a wide variety of inks, pastes, films, coatings, and adhesives. It is very soft (a modulus of less than 5 MPa), which makes it attractive for on-body applications or where conformity to complex geometries is required. It’s stretchable up to 200%, has ultra-low hysteresis, less than 0.1%, and can be stretched for thousands of cycles.

Panasonic’s first-generation product based on this unique chemistry, branded BEYOLEX, is a transparent film designed for printed electronics applications. It is 100 microns of BEYOLEX film delivered on a PEN carrier with a PET top sheet. The high-temperature PEN functions as a mechanical stabilizer during processing and the PET protects the film during transportation. Packages containing five sheets of BEYOLEX part number MUAS13111AA can be purchased on-line from Digi-Key.

More film products and delivery formats based on this polymer system are being developed by the Panasonic research team. At the same time, we continue working with customers and partners around the world on new products unconstrained by the flat and rectangular electronics paradigm. Panasonic Electronic Materials is committed to enabling the next generation of electronic devices that fit our world.


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