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Gerard & Anton Award winner FononTech: Impulse Printing breaks through boundaries of microelectronics

Written by Innovation Origins

Written by Innovation Origins

Innovation Origins spotlights the winners of the Gerard and Anton Awards 2023. This edition: FononTech.

Devices are becoming more powerful; their components smaller and more complex. For that, how do you still get electronic connections manufactured reliably - and preferably not too expensively? Well, with Impulse Printing. And let that be Fonontech's specialty.

Deep-tech start-up FononTech recently raised €2.3 million in a seed investment round. The young company is using the money to further develop their printed microelectronics technology. FononTech was founded in 2022 as a spin-off from TNO at Holst Centre in Eindhoven. CEO Rob Hendriks is optimistic about the market opportunity: "We expect the market for microelectronics assembly to double in the next five years to about €78 billion. We are happy with the confidence of our investors that we will capture a large part of this."

Microelectronic components are getting smaller and denser, often in complex, layered structures. Connecting these parts together electronically is becoming increasingly challenging, and increasing miniaturization and integrated electronics demand improved performance and functionality. Traditional manufacturing techniques are being stretched to the limit; with its Impulse Printing Technology solution, Fonontech aims to break this boundary. FononTech claims that the ecological impact of microelectronics manufacturing can be reduced by a factor of 1,000 with its new technology. Impulse Printing is an additive process, in which a pattern is copied thousands of times at very high speed while depositing material only at the required locations. The international semiconductor and display market is already strongly interested in FononTech's technology. But Hendriks expects even more: "Our ambition is to become the global market leader."

More chiplets, smaller volume

To get there, FononTech needs to understand the markets in which it operates. Hendriks: "We build high-end equipment for the semiconductor and display industries. The semiconductor market is mainly about advanced packaging, where more and more small chips are crammed into a smaller volume. Manufacturers would like to get rid of "wire bonding" because it is slow, takes up a lot of volume and cannot be made smaller. The display industry has been trying for years to find a cost-effective and scalable method of wrapping ("wrapping around") electrodes. These electronic lines connect the front of the display, where the pixels are located, to the back, where the control electronics are located. With wrap around electrodes, it becomes possible to make screens without a bezel. This allows you to make infinitely large displays by combining all the small displays. Our Impulse Printing technology can print these wrap-around electrodes at very high speed and cost-effectively."

Hendriks expects the miniaturization of nanoscale transistors to reach its limits in the next decade, making it increasingly important how these microchips - or chiplets - are packaged. "The expectation is that advanced micro-scale packaging will be needed to keep Moore's Law alive. "Even with the recent round of funding and such high expectations, FononTech had a number of challenges to overcome recently. Hendriks gives an example, "Proving that the heating element in the Impulse plate can heat more than a thousand times at lightning speed without breaking down. Our business model only works if an Impulse plate can print more than a thousand times. Otherwise, the cost becomes too high for the end customer."

Demo Kit

With the Impulse Demo Kit - basically a small printer in a box - FononTech proved that the concept really can work. "It put us on the map with the industry and led to the funding needed to develop the Impulse Beta."

FononTech is part of the Brainport Eindhoven ecosystem, which can be helpful in development. "We build high-tech machines and Brainport Eindhoven is among the best ecosystems in the world for building complex machines. There are many companies in the region with specific expertise that we need to develop our machines." Still, the region also has its challenges. Chief among them is the ability to adapt to economic expectations. Hendriks: "We need more housing, given the growth in the region."

As the winner in the ninth round of the Gerard & Anton Awards, FononTech is part of an already strong tradition. Which of the eighty previous winners stands out for Rob Hendriks? "LionVolt. Making batteries lighter, smaller and more efficient is crucial for all future electronic products. Only miniaturizing electronics is insufficient, because today's batteries still demand a large part of the volume."

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