NSERC Industrial Research Chair
for Colleges in Functional Print Manufacturing
Printing processes are in fact advanced additive manufacturing techniques which may be used to transfer active printable materials with controlled shapes and thicknesses onto flexible substrates in a standardized fashion, whether in large or small quantities.
This unique ability allows us to replace the conventional pigments in inks with active printable materials, and to use these new inks to manufacture functional printed products that can communicate, measure and process even more information.
The ICI’s research and development projects are supported by the NSERC Industrial Research Chair for Colleges in Functional print manufacturing. The scientific and technical team integrates industrial production capacity with fields such as electronics, energy or biotechnology, while being a bridge between academic results and industrial needs.
Expertise in Printability
Whether it is for conventional printed products or printed electronics, the goal of printing is to achieve a cohesive ink / process / substrate system while controlling the rheological properties of inks, the interface properties of the ink and substrate, and the mechanical properties of the printed product to attain the desired effect for the client for a given application, at a high speed and a low cost.
At the centre of this complex system, printability adresses the problems of ink transfer related to a printing process, substrate wetting and the adhesion of wet and dry ink film. The ICI’s team is prepared to solve this huge puzzle in order to accomplish the stated project mission.
Watch the video about the making of our printed NFC badges.
Ink Formulation Expertise
A commercial printing ink is optimized to provide the desired colour after being transferred consistently, at a low cost, and very high volume using a standardized printing process.
For required properties of the dry functional ink film differ wildly from the bright, colourful appearance of conventional inks. The pigments are replaced by active particles, often nanomaterials. The ink formulation becomes a balancing act in which it is important to choose the right resins, solvents and additives to achieve good compatibility between the liquid ink, the substrate using the chosen printing process while maximizing the active properties of the ink film once it is dry. In theory, there is no limitation on the type of active material which may be formulated, as long as it is safe for the work environment. For example, ICI has already formulated plant extracts, metallic nanopowders, carbon nanotubes and biological components.
Watch the video which was flexographic printed with conventional inks and then coated with a functional water-based flexographic varnish containing a low concentration of metallic nanoparticles. The presence of these nanoparticles on the surface of this map reduces the risk of spreading pathogens by eliminating them through a chemical reaction.
A Copper-Based Conductive Ink for Printed Electronics
Silver-based inks have become the norm for conductive inks used in printed electronics. They are available for most processes and perform well for most applications. However, since they are expensive and polluting, a great deal of research is being done to replace them. Copper is one of the main candidates, but copper nanoparticles are easily oxidized, preventing electrons from transferring from one particle to the next. With the support of a supplier of copper powder and a partner who has a new drying technology, the ICI was able to create a printable formulation using conventional printing processes. Once again, teamwork was the key to success!
An Enzymatic Ink for Printed Biosensors
Thanks to the work of a multidisciplinary team at Ahuntsic College and their teachers, the ICI has developed inks containing enzymes such as glucose oxidase (for the detection of sugar in the blood of diabetics)and other enzymes, such as those which may detect the deterioration of fresh produce (for intelligent packaging). The production challenge remains the protection of the enzyme during the formulation in solvents and while drying during printing. We are proud of the work done by this young team, which shows the potential of printing beyond the graphics industry and inspires students in all fields to be passionate about the potential of printing to solve major social issues.
Expertise in Industrialization Using Advanced Manufacturing Processes
The goal of prototyping is to demonstrate the performance of a given technology. Once this is done, industrialization allows us to take into account the issues of manufacturing and supply, the life cycle of the product and the production potential using high-volume processes as well as the regulatory environment applicable to the target markets.
The transition between the prototype and the manufacturing often seems to be long and full of problems. The ICI’s expertise allows us to build a winning combination of skills in pure sciences, required to achieve specific functionalities ,and in printing process engineering, to break down the barriers of advanced manufacturing. Meanwhile, in collaboration with our partners, industrialization projects continue to move forward on issues such as marketing and regulations.
How to Make 1 km of Batteries Using Continuous Rotary Printing?
Making kilometers of flexible batteries based on a saline technology is a daring gamble! But thanks to rotary additive printing processes, the ICI has shown that it is possible to mass produce very low cost devices for intelligent packaging and labels.
The food, cosmetics, pharmaceutical and luxury industries need communication technologies integrated into every product–The Internet of Things–to fight against product waste and counterfeiting. To this end, packaging and labels will include flexible communication devices and sensors which require a low cost flexible energy source with good performance. To manufacture such devices, printing processes are the perfect manufacturing platform to allow the transfer of functional inks onto flexible substrates, at a high speed in “dirty” manufacturing environments rather than white rooms.
Thanks to its advanced rotary manufacturing equipment, the ICI has prototyped large-scale production, eliminating the technological dangers for its industrial partners, and eliminating the need to block their own equipment for tests or to invest in dedicated equipment.
The Internet of Things for the Traceability of Packaging and Food Safety
To meet the increasing needs for traceability and quality monitoring of food products, and to ensure compliance with health standards before exportation, the ICI and its partners work to develop new hybrid manufacturing methods, a mix of the manufacturing methods used in printed electronics and conventional electronics. The use of rotary systems opens wide ranges of applications and is well suited to the application of The Internet of Things onto mass-market products. One of the first goals is to industrialize intelligent labels and packaging which may ensure the tracking of the temperature and deterioration of products, to improve traceability, and to fight against counterfeiting in sensitive fields, such as agribusiness and the pharmaceutical industry which are highly regulated internationally.
It is essential for our local industries to have access to these new technologies to protect their products and stand out in the race to face the dangers and to comply with the regulations put in place by importing countries to protect against epidemics, infections and counterfeiting.
Furthermore, by supporting the development of such manufacturing methods while respecting the environment we ensure that this high-tech production complies with the Canadian environmental regulations and stays in Canada, benefiting the local economy. Finally, the local use of these devices is a major health issue for the improvement of the quality of the food that Canadians eat.
Such large-scale projects take advantage of the best of the ICI’s expertise in industrialization and allow us to substantiate the results of our efforts in development, to address important world issues.
Technological Transfer: A Bridge Between Universities and the Industry
The ICI is a bridge between the graphics industry and other sectors, as well as between universities and industrial partners. Translating industrial needs into fundamental skill sets and challenges allows us to direct the work of university laboratories and to promote cooperation. Furthermore, the ICI and its research team can integrate advanced academic results into industrial projects. Finally, the rigorous analytical methods used to understand technical issues allows us to strengthen planning and strategies to improve project management. We have the best of both worlds to get to the top of the technological ladder!