Precision Micro develops new laser mask-making technique

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Precision Micro has developed new manufacturing technologies that increase the resolution and improve the aperture quality in the deposition masks used extensively in the production of flat and flexible panel displays and for depositing gold and silver traces onto quartz crystals.

Using what it calls its laser evolved etching process and laser evolved electroforming (LEEP & LEEF) process techniques, the company can produce cost-effective nickel, stainless steel and invar masks for these purposes, which it claims can out-perform traditional alternatives. The techniques combine low preparation costs with superior tolerances, delivering greater density designs with higher accuracy.

Each individual mask can contain as many as several million apertures, each of which can be as small as 10µm in diameter. Despite the high number of apertures, the cost of the mask is kept low by virtue of the fact that the detail is chemically etched or electroformed simultaneously.

Masks produced with LEEF or LEEP technology are burr-free, stress-free and completely flat whereas masks produced by laser cutting, the alternative manufacturing method, are subjected to thermal excursions during the manufacturing process that can cause stress and distortion in the material. The direct laser imaging stages of the company's LEEF and LEEP replace the photographic stage of conventional electroforming, thereby increasing reliability while maintaining low costs.

In order to virtually eliminate photo shadow and optimise deposit definition, it is imperative that the masks should have the thinnest possible cross-section in the pattern area. Using honed, multi-level techniques, Precision Micro can produce masks down to 10µm thick with substantial reinforcement in non-patterned areas to enhance durability. ‘Pockets’ can also be formed into the mask to hold components, such as crystals, in-place during the deposition process.

The masks are already being used in the production of many electronic surfaces, such as e-paper, and OLED displays.