LINZ, Austria Nanoident Technologies AG has opened a production fab for printed organic semiconductors in Linz, Austria. The company claims it is the world's first organic fab. Initially the company is focusing on sensors for life sciences, industrial and security applications.
In a 800 square meter fab with a 400 square meter clean room, the company will produce about 40.000 square meters of semiconductor material annually, an area comparable to the output of large full-fledged silicon fabs, Nanoident CEO Klaus Schroeter said.
However, since organic electronic geometries are much larger than their silicon counterparts - Schroeter mentioned feature sizes of 20 microns - the figures are not really comparable. However, the sensors will be available at a fraction of available silicon-based sensors. In many applications, the price will be low enough to offer it for one-time use.
Nanoident will produce customer specific photo sensors in all shapes for a broad range of applications. Presently customers are active in medical and industrial markets, Schroeter said without naming any of them. In addition, the mother company will provide technological expertise and basis technology for its application oriented subsidiaries in Austria, France (Nanoident Biometrics SAS) and USA (Bioident Technologies).
The latter one produces a sensor array that it calls lab-on-a-chip, albeit it comes without processing electronics. The lab-on-a-chip can be used for a broad range of medical and environmental tests including measuring water quality, and for military sensor applications in the segment of biological and chemical warfare.
In many applications, these sensors compete against lab systems carrying price tags of several hundred thousand dollars, explained Wasiq Bokhari, CEO of Nanoident subsidiary Bioident (Menlo Park, Calif.). With its life science sensors, the company serves customers in the medical and environmental diagnostics market. All sensors presently are designed for one-time use. Bokhari did refuse to be specific on prices, but "it is low enough to make it disposable", as he put it.
Another product the company is working on is fingerprint sensors for use in mobile phone applications. "With the use of plastic electronics, such sensors can be integrated directly into a mobile handset case," explained Schroeter.
While standard semiconductor fabs require investments in the billion dollar range, the investment required to build and equip the Nanoident organic electronics fab was only "a few million dollars", Schroeter said, refusing to become more specific.
The devices are designed using standard EDA software, Nanoident CTO Franz Padinger explained. The printing equipment also is off-the shelf with some modifications for material deposition. Also the chemicals used to print the circuits are standard raw materials, but again with some modifications. "It is very important to find the optimal solvent for each layer", Padinger said.
Production started in 4Q2006. Not having completed the run-up phase yet, the company presently manufacturers sensors in low volumes, Padinger said. By year-end, Nanoident plans to have reached full production capacity, and to quadruple the fab headcount to about 40.
Nanoident is privately held and does not provide sales figures. It also does not use venture capital, Schroeter emphasized.