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April 17, 2015: IEEE Computing Now

The ITO Silver Nanowire Comparison - Straight Facts

Rarely have the obvious intrinsic values of technology breakthroughs been more clearly defined. In the realm of transparent electrodes used for touchscreen displays, there is a massive switch on from the incumbent material, indium tin oxide (ITO) to electrodes based on silver nanowires. This transition in display technologies, particularly where screen flexibility and other new properties are required, is because of several easily understood differences between the two materials.

Product creators demand conductivity below 100/sq to make their touchscreens more responsive and further improve user experience. Silver is the most conductive element in use. For large area touchscreens like 20-inch monitors, higher conductivity is essential for a fast response time and to detect 10-finger touch. In laptops and smartphones, film-based transparent conductors can create thinner, lighter and stronger touchscreens. Higher transmission also enhances battery-life-per-charge and creates brighter displays since the silver nanowire-based touch sensor does not impede light as greatly as traditional materials.

Single-layer touch sensors based on silver nanowires offer notably lower cost than ITO because they use fewer layers of adhesives and conductors in the touchscreen stack so there's less manufacturing complexity and materials used. Thin is in because nearly all products, particularly in the consumer electronics domain need to appear sleek and aesthetically attractive.

If slim industrial design is a must, the next trend is flexibility. In real-world tests, silver nanowire coated films withstand greater than 100,000 turns around a 3mm
bending radius, demonstrating great fit in flexible, rollable electronic products. ITO does not flex (technically it flexes once…).

When compared directly, silver nanowire-based touchscreens range from slightly less to significantly lower in cost than equivalent ITO film-based solutions. Silver nanowires cost less because of their room-temperature laser process. Laser patterning equipment costs are also lower. Further, the process requires no consumables and there are no waste disposal problems. It's a greener way of making the required materials used in new touchscreens.

Major OEMs have already caught on to silver nanowires' advantages. These include leading industry heavyweights like Hitachi, LG, TPK, Nissha, 3M, Okura and many others.

For emerging applications, including large-area touchscreens, as well as miniature, flexible displays, silver nanowires offer a significant advantage, both in cost and performance. The material, already being used in several consumer products, offers lower manufacturing and per unit costs, and makes scaling much easier. Roll-to-roll processed silver nanowire transparent conductors are the clear choice for new production facilities that need high throughput and easy processing. They're also on target for OEMs needing a thin, light, flexible material delivering high performance for their next killer products.

Sri Peruvemba is a vice president at Cambrios Technologies Corp. Cambrios provides innovative solutions using nanotechnology. Its silver nanowire-based transparent conductors simplify electronics manufacturing and improve end-product cost and performance for electronic devices. Cambrios is headquartered in Silicon Valley.

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