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Installing the Largest Electrostatic Jet Printer in Europe

Anthony fixing the 1.5m linear motor to the printer base.

Theoretical work has shown that by making finer photovoltaic (PV) electrode structures, it is possible to extract the charges more efficiently without casting the shadow that larger structures do. A real world analogy is the way that a network of fine branches on a tree allow for more capture of sunlight compared to a tree with a single thick trunk.

One means of producing finer structures is Electrostatic jet printing (ESJET) which is able to create lines down to 10 micron in width (1/6th of an average human hair). ESJET is a patterning method where ink is drawn from a nozzle to the surface to be printed using a high static voltage (up to 3000 V!). By controlling the movement of substrate under the nozzle at high speed it is possible to digitally write any pattern required with conductive ink. The process has numerous advantages over rival processes such as inkjet and screen printing, but is still at an experimental stage.

As part of EPSRC and Innovate UK funded Hi-Prospects, the largest ESJET printer in Europe is being installed in the SPECIFIC Pilot Manufacturing Research Centre (PMRC) cleanroom by Anthony, Eifion, Youmna and SPIN intern Andrew Robinson. From early PV cell modelling studies, a custom system has been designed from the ground up with all the required electronics, drives, mechanical structures and computer interfacing. The printer includes a linear motor which can accelerate (and more importantly decelerate!) 40Kg of metal to 2 metres per second within 10 mm; acceleration around 40 times gravity.

Those passing along the corridor in the PMRC clean-room, will have seen a pile of aluminium and wires transforming itself to be a unique printing machine over the summer. By the end of September we will have the build completed and we will be running in earnest from October. We look forward to showing samples and operational videos at a future event but if you need any further information, contact Eifion who will bore you with his excitement.

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