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Basics of Thin Film – How Thick is Thin?

Basics of Thin Film – How Thick is Thin?
Thin film technologies cover a range of thicknesses and are particularly important to the electronics industry. Here’s why.

Thin film is a generic term that refers to the thickness of a layer of material ranging from the tiniest nanometers to several micrometers. Thin-film foil fabrics play an increasingly important role in the electronics space with applications including batteries; electronics (usually printed) such as diodes, transistors, memories; and thin film photovoltaic (PV) solar cells. Medical and wearable devices are also a growing market for thin-film electronics.

The thin film global semiconductor deposition market is expected to grow to $22 billion by 2022, according to a report from Allied Market Research. Further, the thin film market for sensors is expected to reach US$ 3,093.3 Mn by 2026, as predicted by Transparency Market Research.

The demand for thin film semiconductor electronics has increased in the recent years due to their advantages such as higher efficiency, lighter weight, less space consumption, and flexibility in shape as compared to conventional silicon devices.

Thin films are created in a number of ways. For example, a mirror consists of a sheet of glass upon which a thin metal coating has been applied to form the reflective surface. The modern process used to create a mirror, called sputtering, belongs to a larger class of processing methods known as deposition.  Other examples of thin film deposition applications are magnetic recording media, semiconductor devices, optical coatings (such as mirrors and antireflective coatings), hard coatings on cutting tools, and for both energy generation (e.g. thin-film solar cells) and storage (thin-film batteries).

Flexible electronics make use of thin film electronics – in which electronic devices are mounted on flexible plastic substrates - especially thin-film transistor (TFT) circuits. One popular application is in display technology, where thin-film transistors switch-on or switch-off each pixel on the display

Newer manufacturing technologies like 3D Printing allow for the creation of electronic devices on various printed substrates. Electrically functional electronic or optical inks are deposited on the substrate to create thin film transistors, capacitors, inductor, resistors and the like. Printed electronics provide very low-cost, low-performance electronics for applications such as flexible displays, smart labels, animated posters, and other applications that don’t require high performance electronics.

John Blyler is a Design News senior editor, covering the electronics and advanced manufacturing spaces. With a BS in Engineering Physics and an MS in Electrical Engineering, he has years of hardware-software-network systems experience as an editor and engineer within the advanced manufacturing, IoT and semiconductor industries. John has co-authored books related to system engineering and electronics for IEEE, Wiley, and Elsevier.

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