This application is a continuation of U.S. patent application Ser. No. 11/302,091, entitled “Miniature Aerosol Jet and Aerosol Jet Array”, filed on Dec. 12, 2005, which claims the benefit of the filing of U.S. Provisional Patent Application Ser. No. 60/635,847, entitled “Miniature Aerosol Jet and Aerosol Jet Array,” filed on Dec. 13, 2004, and U.S. Provisional Patent Application Ser. No. 60/669,748, entitled “Atomizer Chamber and Aerosol Jet Array,” filed on Apr. 8, 2005, and the specifications and claims thereof are incorporated herein by reference.
The present invention relates to direct printing of various aerosolized materials using a miniaturized aerosol jet, or an array of miniaturized aerosol jets. The invention more generally relates to maskless, non-contact printing onto planar or non-planar surfaces. The invention may also be used to print materials onto heat-sensitive targets, is performed under atmospheric conditions, and is capable of deposition of micron-size features.
The present invention is a deposition head assembly for depositing a material on a target, the deposition head assembly comprising a deposition head comprising a channel for transporting an aerosol comprising the material, one or more inlets for introducing a sheath gas into the deposition head; a first chamber connected to the inlets; a region proximate to an exit of the channel for combining the aerosol with the sheath gas, thereby forming an annular jet comprising an outer sheath flow surrounding an inner aerosol flow; and an extended nozzle. The deposition head assembly preferably has a diameter of less than approximately 1 cm. The inlets are preferably circumferentially arranged around the channel. The region optionally comprises a second chamber.
The first chamber is optionally external to the deposition head and develops a cylindrically symmetric distribution of sheath gas pressure about the channel before the sheath gas is combined with the aerosol. The first chamber is preferably sufficiently long enough to develop a cylindrically symmetric distribution of sheath gas pressure about the channel before the sheath gas is combined with the aerosol. The deposition head assembly optionally further comprises a third chamber for receiving sheath gas from the first chamber, the third chamber assisting the first chamber in developing a cylindrically symmetric distribution of sheath gas pressure about the channel before the sheath gas is combined with the aerosol. The third chamber is preferably connected to the first chamber by a plurality of passages which are parallel to and circumferentially arranged around the channel. The deposition head assembly preferably comprises one or more actuators for translating or tilting the deposition head relative to the target.
The invention is also an apparatus for depositing a material on a target, the apparatus comprising a plurality of channels for transporting an aerosol comprising the material, a sheath gas chamber surrounding the channels, a region proximate to an exit of each of the channels for combining the aerosol with sheath gas, thereby forming an annular jet for each channel, the jet comprising an outer sheath flow surrounding an inner aerosol flow, and an extended nozzle corresponding to each of the channels. The plurality of channels preferably form an array. The aerosol optionally enters each of the channels from a common chamber. The aerosol is preferably individually fed to at least one of the channels. A second aerosolized material is optionally fed to at least one of the channels. The aerosol mass flow rate in at least one of the channels is preferably individually controllable. The apparatus preferably comprises one or more actuators for translating or tilting one or more of the channels and extended nozzles relative to the target.
The apparatus preferably further comprises an atomizer comprising a cylindrical chamber for holding the material, a thin polymer film disposed on the bottom of the chamber, an ultrasonic bath for receiving the chamber and directing ultrasonic energy up through the film, a carrier tube for introducing carrier gas into the chamber, and one or more pickup tubes for delivering the aerosol to the plurality of channels. The carrier tube preferably comprises one or more openings. The apparatus preferably further comprises a funnel attached to the tube for recycling large droplets of the material. Additional material is optionally continuously provided to the atomizer to replace material which is delivered to the plurality of channels.
An object of the present invention is to provide a miniature deposition head for depositing materials on a target.
An advantage of the present invention is that miniaturized deposition heads are easily incorporated into compact arrays, which allow multiple depositions to be performed in parallel, thus greatly reducing deposition time.
Other objects, advantages and novel features, and further scope of applicability of the present invention will be set forth in part in the detailed description to follow, taken in conjunction with the accompanying drawings, and in part will become apparent to those skilled in the art upon examination of the following, or may be learned by practice of the invention. The objects and advantages of the invention may be realized and attained by means of the instrumentalities and combinations particularly pointed out in the appended claims.
The accompanying drawings, which are incorporated into and form a part of the specification, illustrate several embodiments of the present invention and, together with the description, serve to explain the principles of the invention. The drawings are only for the purpose of illustrating a preferred embodiment of the invention and are not to be construed as limiting the invention. In the drawings:
The present invention generally relates to apparatuses and methods for high-resolution, maskless deposition of liquid and liquid-particle suspensions using aerodynamic focusing. In the most commonly used embodiment, an aerosol stream is focused and deposited onto a planar or non-planar target, forming a pattern that is thermally or photochemically processed to achieve physical, optical, and/or electrical properties near that of the corresponding bulk material. The process is called M3D®, Maskless Mesoscale Material Deposition, and is used to deposit aerosolized materials with linewidths that are an order of magnitude smaller than lines deposited with conventional thick film processes. Deposition is performed without the use of masks. The term mesoscale refers to sizes from approximately 1 micron to 1 millimeter, and covers the range between geometries deposited with conventional thin film and thick film processes. Furthermore, with post-processing laser treatment, the M3D® process is capable of defining lines having widths as small as 1 micron.
The M3D® apparatus preferably uses an aerosol jet deposition head to form an annularly propagating jet composed of an outer sheath flow and an inner aerosol-laden carrier flow. In the annular aerosol jetting process, the aerosol stream enters the deposition head, preferably either directly after the aerosolization process or after passing through the heater assembly, and is directed along the axis of the device towards the deposition head orifice. The mass throughput is preferably controlled by an aerosol carrier gas mass flow controller. Inside the deposition head, the aerosol stream is preferably initially collimated by passing through a millimeter-size orifice. The emergent particle stream is then preferably combined with an annular sheath gas. The carrier gas and the sheath gas most commonly comprise compressed air or an inert gas, where one or both may contain a modified solvent vapor content. For example, when the aerosol is formed from an aqueous solution, water vapor may be added to the carrier gas or the sheath gas to prevent droplet evaporation.
The sheath gas preferably enters through a sheath air inlet below the aerosol inlet and forms an annular flow with the aerosol stream. As with the aerosol carrier gas, the sheath gas flowrate is preferably controlled by a mass flow controller. The combined streams exit the extended nozzle through an orifice directed at a target. This annular flow focuses the aerosol stream onto the target and allows for deposition of features with dimensions as small as approximately 5 microns.
In the M3D® method, once the sheath gas is combined with the aerosol stream, the flow does not need to pass through more than one orifice in order to deposit sub-millimeter linewidths. In the deposition of a 10-micron line, the M3D® method typically achieves a flow diameter constriction of approximately 250, and may be capable of constrictions in excess of 1000, for this “single-stage” deposition. No axial constrictors are used, and the flows typically do not reach supersonic flow velocities, thus preventing the formation of turbulent flow, which could potentially lead to a complete constriction of the flow.
Enhanced deposition characteristics are obtained by attaching an extended nozzle to the deposition head. The nozzle is attached to the lower chamber of the deposition head preferably using pneumatic fittings and a tightening nut, and is preferably approximately 0.95 to 1.9 centimeters long. The nozzle reduces the diameter of the emergent stream and collimates the stream to a fraction of the nozzle orifice diameter at distances of approximately 3 to 5 millimeters beyond the nozzle exit. The size of the orifice diameter of the nozzle is chosen in accordance with the range of desired linewidths of the deposited material. The exit orifice may have a diameter ranging from approximately 50 to 500 microns. The deposited linewidth can be approximately as small as one-twentieth the size of the orifice diameter, or as large as the orifice diameter. The use of a detachable extended nozzle also enables the size of deposited structures to be varied from as small as a few microns to as large as a fraction of a millimeter, using the same deposition apparatus. The diameter of the emerging stream (and therefore the linewidth of the deposit) is controlled by the exit orifice size, the ratio of sheath gas flow rate to carrier gas flow rate, and the distance between the orifice and the target. Enhanced deposition can also be obtained using an extended nozzle that is machined into the body of the deposition head. A more detailed description of such an extended nozzle is contained in commonly-owned U.S. patent application Ser. No. 11/011,366, entitled “Annular Aerosol Jet Deposition Using An Extended Nozzle”, filed on Dec. 13, 2004, which is incorporated in its entirety herein by reference.
In many applications, it is advantageous to perform deposition from multiple deposition heads. The use of multiple deposition heads for direct printing applications may be facilitated by using miniaturized deposition heads to increase the number of nozzles per unit area. The miniature deposition head preferably comprises the same basic internal geometry as the standard head, in that an annular flow is formed between the aerosol and sheath gases in a configuration similar to that of the standard deposition head. Miniaturization of the deposition head also facilitates a direct write process in which the deposition head is mounted on a moving gantry, and deposits material on a stationary target.
Miniature Aerosol Jet Deposition Head and Jet Arrays
Miniaturization of the M3D® deposition head may reduce the weight of the device by more than an order of magnitude, thus facilitating mounting and translation on a movable gantry. Miniaturization also facilitates the fabrication and operation of arrayed deposition heads, enabling construction and operation of arrays of aerosol jets capable of independent motion and deposition. Arrayed aerosol jets provide an increased deposition rate, arrayed deposition, and multi-material deposition. Arrayed aerosol jets also provide for increased nozzle density for high-resolution direct write applications, and can be manufactured with customized jet spacing and configurations for specific deposition applications. Nozzle configurations include, but are not limited to, linear, rectangular, circular, polygonal, and various nonlinear arrangements.
The miniature deposition head functions similarly, if not identically, to the standard deposition head, but has a diameter that is approximately one-fifth the diameter of the larger unit. Thus the diameter or width of the miniature deposition head is preferably approximately 1 cm, but could be smaller or larger. The several embodiments detailed in this application disclose various methods of introducing and distributing the sheath gas within the deposition head, as well as methods of combining the sheath gas flow with the aerosol flow. Development of the sheath gas flow within the deposition head is critical to the deposition characteristics of the system, determines the final width of the jetted aerosol stream and the amount and the distribution of satellite droplets deposited beyond the boundaries of the primary deposit, and minimizes clogging of the exit orifice by forming a barrier between the wall of the orifice and the aerosol-laden carrier gas.
A cross-section of a miniature deposition head is shown in
In this configuration, the sheath gas enters the plenum chamber from ports 118 located on the side of the chamber, and flows upward to the sheath gas channels 114.
Miniaturization of the deposition head enables fabrication of a multiplexed head design. A schematic of such a device is shown in
Atomizer Chamber for Aerosol Jet Array
An aerosol jet array requires an atomizer that is significantly different from the atomizer used in a standard M3D® system.
Containment funnel 138 is preferably centered within atomizer chamber 136 and is connected to carrier gas port 140, which preferably comprises a hollow tube that extends out of the top of the atomizer chamber 136. Port 140 preferably comprises one or more slots or notches 200 located just above funnel 138, which allow the carrier gas to enter chamber 136. Funnel 138 contains the large droplets that are formed during atomization and allows them to downward along the tube to the bath to be recycled. Smaller droplets are entrained in the carrier gas, and delivered as an aerosol or mist from the atomizer assembly via one or more pickup tubes 142 which are preferably mounted around funnel 138.
The number of aerosol outputs for the atomizer assembly is preferably variable and depends on the size of the multi-nozzle array. Gasket material is preferably positioned on the top of the atomizer chamber 136 as a seal and is preferably sandwiched between two pieces of metal. The gasket material creates a seal around pickup tubes 142 and carrier gas port 140. Although a desired quantity of material to be atomized may be placed in the atomization assembly for batch operation, the material may be continuously fed into the atomizer assembly, preferably by a device such as a syringe pump, through one or more material inlets which are preferably disposed through one or more holes in the gasket material. The feed rate is preferably the same as the rate at which material is being removed from the atomizer assembly, thus maintaining a constant volume of ink or other material in the atomization chamber.
Shuttering and Aerosol Output Balancing
Shuttering of the miniature jet or miniature jet arrays can be accomplished by using a pinch valve positioned on the aerosol gas input tubing. When actuated, the pinch valve constricts the tubing, and stops the flow of aerosol to the deposition head. When the valve is opened, the aerosol flow to the head is resumed. The pinch valve shuttering scheme allows the nozzle to be lowered into recessed features and enables deposition into such features, while maintaining a shuttering capability.
In addition, in the operation of a multinozzle array, balancing of the aerosol output from individual nozzles may be necessary. Aerosol output balancing may be accomplished by constricting the aerosol input tubes leading to the individual nozzles, so that corrections to the relative aerosol output of the nozzles can be made, resulting in a uniform mass flux from each nozzle.
Applications involving a miniature aerosol jet or aerosol jet array include, but are not limited to, large area printing, arrayed deposition, multi-material deposition, and conformal printing onto 3-dimensional objects using ⅘ axis motion.
Although the present invention has been described in detail with reference to particular preferred and alternative embodiments, persons possessing ordinary skill in the art to which this invention pertains will appreciate that various modifications and enhancements may be made without departing from the spirit and scope of the Claims that follow, and that other embodiments can achieve the same results. The various configurations that have been disclosed above are intended to educate the reader about preferred and alternative embodiments, and are not intended to constrain the limits of the invention or the scope of the Claims. Variations and modifications of the present invention will be obvious to those skilled in the art, and it is intended to cover all such modifications and equivalents. The entire disclosures of all patents and publications cited above are hereby incorporated by reference.