Electroforming cases

Discover the future of manufacturing with the case studies about electroforming. See how companies are using electroforming to create precision parts and improve products.

Case studies: innovations enabled by Electroforming

On this page, you’ll find a collection of examples detailing the successes and challenges our clients have faced, and how we have helped them to overcome those challenges and achieve their goals. These case studies provide a behind-the-scenes look at the various industries and sectors we have worked in, and the solutions we have provided to help our clients achieve their business objectives. Whether you’re a potential client looking to learn more about our capabilities or a current client looking for inspiration, you’re sure to find valuable insights and information on this page.

aperture plate releasing millions of micron sized medicine droplets per second

In state of the art aerosol drug delivery system enabled by Vibrating Mesh Technology, Veco’s nebulizer aperture plate (mesh) releases millions of micron sized droplets per second through its unique geometry.

The key to the Vibrating Mesh Technology which re-defined respiratory treatment is the aperture plate surrounded by a vibrational element (shown below).

The electroformed aperture plate is just 5 mm in diameter and perforated with 1000 precision formed tapered holes. It vibrates 128,000 times per second, creating a mini pump that produces a fine particle mist of uniform size droplets, each between 1 and 5 microns in diameter, an ideal particle size for deep lung  penetration. Clinical study has shown that this results in deposition rates far greater than that can  be achieved by conventional nebulization.

As the development of drug delivery technologies, the industry sees an increasing demand for nebulizer
nozzle plates of higher precision and quality level.

Electroforming as an additive manufacturing process highly suitable for miniature structure meets this demand perfectly due to the following features:

  • Highly uniform orifice holes can be formed as     
    small as 1 micron.
  • Flexible hole geometry, any complex hole pattern or shape possible.
  • Ultra-precision and extreme accuracy.  
  • Capable with bio-compatible materials.
  • Flexible and economic tooling and prototyping.

pushing boundaries by co-developing with Veco

Multitest is the world’s leading manufacturer of test equipment for semiconductor’s integrated circuits. It is a trusted partner that the world’s most renowned semiconductor manufacturers work with.
Veco has been working with Multitest since 2010 and helped them along the way to become the international leader in the industry.

the future-proof solution for miniaturized contacts

Semiconductor companies are faced by constant pressure to outperform their competitors and deliver the next ‘big thing’ – to produce parts that are smaller, more durable, and more powerful, all while maintaining cost efficiency and sustainable production. In an industry characterised by rapid technological evolution and constant innovation, this is a full-time task. To this end, it’s essential that semiconductor manufacturers are able to prototype new products with extreme efficiency.

We’ve been working with Multitest since 2010, and helped them along the way of being international leader in semiconductor manufacturing. In this blog, we’ll take a look back at our project with Multitest and the work we’ve done with them over the years. Specifically, we’ll look at the operational and financial benefits that our Heat Resistant (HR) nickel provided them in both their testing and production processes.

About Multitest

Over the past decades, Multitest has grown from a start-up company into one of the world’s leading manufacturers of testing equipment for semiconductor Integrated Circuits (ICs). In that time, they’ve gone from a company of four members and a handful of local clients, to a multinational corporation with hundreds of employees, serving a growing number of international partners. Multitest has offices in over 20 locations across Europe, Asia, and the USA, and is a trusted partner to the world’s most renowned semiconductor manufacturers.

Multitest provides innovative test handling and test interface solutions, tailored to suit the individual requirements of each customer they partner with. They pride themselves on delivering high throughput rates, micron-scale measurement, precision temperature accuracy, and the latest technology for measurement and production.

Before Veco: The challenges faced by Multitest

When Multitest approached us with the challenge of improving testing efficiency and profitability, they were looking for an electroforming partner who was not only able to deliver samples of the highest possible quality and reliability but also to do so at an industrial scale.

Veco’s ability to produce large volumes of parts rapidly and at scale made us a perfect fit for them. Our relationship with Multitest started in 2010, when we began supplying them with electroplated micro-precision parts.

When Multitest took us on as a supplier, they started growing at a rapid rate, and looking for ways to increase efficiency and adapt to the new scale that their increased demand required. In order to achieve their goals, we would need to develop an innovative and unprecedented strategy. To this end, we started working on a new project together, using what we’ve subsequently come to call our experimental approach to prototyping ( read more about the approach to co-developing with us here) and our newly-developed HR nickel technology.

How Veco’s Electroforming technology helped Multitest as a global leader in semiconductor ICs

Multitest’s high production demands and their exacting quality standards means their testing process was intensive, and required a high degree of accuracy, reliability and stability. The semiconductor parts produced by Multitest are extremely small – often only a few hundred microns in height.

Testing with high precision probes has some principal challenges: the probes are subject to rises in temperature during the testing process, which can cause instability and even failure if the material is unable to handle it. Because of Multitest’s stringent quality requirements, they needed their probes to be constructed from a metal that is durable enough to handle the stresses involved in their testing process without it changing properties.

Heat Resistant (HR) Nickel is a unique form of nickel developed by Veco to withstand the stresses involved in the rigorous testing methods used by semiconductor producers. It’s based on entirely different additives to the nickel products developed by our competitors, and has a high heat resistance and conductivity. This makes it possible to subject components to extensive and intensive testing without the material changing properties, and ultimately makes the testing process more consistent and reliable.

How Veco and Multitest’s partnership resulted in increased efficiency and profitability

  1. HR Nickel makes testing more reliable and profitable

    Using our HR Nickel hasn’t just improved the reliability of Multitest’s testing process: it allowed them to increase the profitability and productivity of their entire business. By using a metal that is better suited to the stresses of semiconductor testing, failure rates are significantly lower, and getting accurate testing results is faster, more reliable and more affordable, without compromising on quality. A principal challenge that Multitest had with other suppliers was that their testing probes were suitable for testing, but weren’t resilient enough to be used in millions of measurement cycles. HR nickel makes it possible for Multitest to run several million tests on their components before they show any signs of wear (Up to three times more than conventional components), and are suitable for both testing and production purposes.

  2. Electroforming gives you access to high-precision parts at scale

    Electroforming differs from other techniques in that it allows manufacturers to ‘grow’ parts atom by atom, which provides accurate, high aspect ratios. Electroforming is an Additive Manufacturing technology. Unparalelled high accuracy is achived by a Lithographic process combined with this Electroforming process.

    Electroformed components have an extremely clean and smooth surface quality which is burr and stress-free, with straight side walls, sharp edges and accurate hole sizes impossible to achieve through other techniques. It also allows for exceptionally short lead times both in prototyping and production. In practice, this allows Multitest to achieve near-perfect process control, high repeatability and top-quality component production – in other words, it’s the perfect solution for manufacturers looking to achieve high production volumes at minimal cost.

  3. A shared vision and co-development helps us achieve and exceed Multitest’s goals

    We’ve helped Multitest achieve many operational benefits during our time working with them, but I believe it’s the way we approach our partnership that adds the most significant value to them: instead of a traditional supplier/manufacturer relationship, Multitest and Veco work hand-in-hand with Multitest every step of the way, which ensures our visions are aligned at all points. On the technical side, our Application Engineers co-operate with Multitest’s engineers to develop solutions co-operatively. Our relationship with their engineers is ongoing, and we have regular check-ins to ensure we’re consistently helping them achieve their targets. We also share a KanBan system with their purchasing department, which allows us to keep their main parts on stock for fast delivery.

    The fact that we work so closely alongside Multitest’s engineers and purchasing team also means that we have a unique insight into the context of their business, the challenges they face and the goals they hope to achieve. This means we’re able to provide them with a tailored, innovative solution that is based on their specific demands and requirements.

What makes Electroforming the future-proof solution for miniaturized contacts

  • Higher precision sub-micron tolerated versatile tubes

    The electroforming process is very flexible: your design can be changed easily without the need for expensive tooling costs. By its ability to produce very fine curved shapes it surpasses conventional technologies like stamping and punching. Radii as small as 30 microns can be made in relatively thick (30-100 micron) material.

  • Higher density and further miniaturization of intercircuits

    With electroforming, it is possible to keep up with the demands for HD intercircuits. It is possible to make very slim designs with high aspect ratios. This means that very small products can be made without compromising on reliability. Aspect ratios achieved with electroforming are up to 3 times higher than with conventional stamping or punching.

  • Smoother surface for enhanced reliability

    The contact surface is free from burrs, fractures, or stress, which leads to enhanced reliability of the contact products. Also, a combination of materials — as well as surface finishing — is possible to increase the functionality of the product.

  • Better material developed dedicated for increased contact

    Special Electroformed materials have been developed to maximize the functionality of the products. Materials up to 600 Vickers hardness with a very high thermal and electrical conductivity exist. The “spring” behavior of these materials results in a very long lasting product without wear.

empowering the next-gen PV cell manufacturing

The demand for energy transition is constantly increasing, especially since the Paris Agreement stipulates that the world must become greenhouse gas neutral by the second half of the century to limit the increase of global temperatures to a maximum of 2°C. Solar power plays a very important role in energy transition and climate protection as it affords a drastic reduction in greenhouse gasses, which arise through the burning of fossil-based fuels such as oils, coal and gas.

In this context, accumulated research and effort has been taken to improve the efficiency of solar power. Crystalline silicon (Si) photovoltaic (PV) cells are the most common solar cells used in commercially available solar panels. They have dominated the PV cell market since its early beginnings, around the 1950s, and account for more than 90 percent of it today.

The outlook for higher efficiency in photovoltaic cell manufacturing — from better screens to no screens

A large number of PV cell manufacturing companies and research institutes have been devoted to improving cell efficiency and reducing costs to develop high-efficiency crystalline Si PV cells. An essential step in producing these cells is the metallisation process of creating a grid of very fine lines on the front side of the wafer that conduct the light-generated electrons away from the cell.

This metallisation process is most often undertaken using screen printing technology, whereby conductive paste is forced through the openings of a wire mesh or emulsion screen onto the wafer to form the circuits or contacts. Over the years, efforts to improve the efficiency and precision of PV cell metallisation have led to better screen printing equipment and materials. For example, high-precision stencils have been introduced as an alternative to traditional wire mesh and emulsion screens. Moreover, the development of inkjet printing and 3D metal printing technologies has allowed for the realisation of maskless screen printing.

(1) Screen printing

The screen printing process begins with an Si wafer being placed on a printing table. A screen, usually a wire mesh or emulsion screen, is mounted within a frame and placed over the wafer. This screen blocks certain areas and leaves other areas open. Metal paste, usually silver (Ag), is then dispensed onto the screen using a squeegee so that it is spread uniformly to fill the screen openings. As the squeegee moves across the screen, it pushes the paste through the openings, transferring it onto the wafer.

A grid of conductive circuit lines is deposited this way. These thin and delicate lines, also referred to as fingers, collect and conduct the light-generated electricity from the active regions to larger collecting lines, or busbars, and then to the module’s electrical system.

However, the lines are not as thin as desired, since they block sunlight from reaching active parts of the cell and thus reduce conversion efficiency. To minimise this so-called shadowing effect, efforts have been made to make the lines as narrow as possible as well as taller to maintain the same cross-section for adequate conductivity. 

screen printing process

screen printing process illustration

(2) Stencil printing

The stencil printing process was introduced after the screen printing process. The development of high-precision metal manufacturing technologies such as electroforming meant that high-precision stencils became an alternative for achieving achieve finer, taller contacts in PV cell manufacturing. As in screen printing, these stencils, with blocked and open areas, are used to apply paste to the wafer.

Stencil printing overcomes the limitations of screen printing in aspect ratio (i.e. line height/line width), finger width and uniformity. The much finer lines with higher aspect ratio and better durability. All of these in the end lead to much higher yield and lower cost. Lab tests have shown stencil printing as offering a 0.25 percent PV cell efficiency improvement over screen printing. 

Electroformed Solar Cell Stencil

Electroformed Solar Cell Stencil

(3) Inkjet printing

Inkjet printing is an extremely versatile, non-contact process that involves jetting tiny ink droplets to facilitate direct printing. Besides printing graphics on all kinds of surfaces, industrial inkjet printers today can deposit a wide range of inks with ultra-precise accuracy on various substrates. Thanks to inkjet printing being non-contact and that available inks range from polymers and metal nanoparticles to living cells, inkjet printing has seen a surge of new applications in fields including electronics, life science, PVs and optics.

In PV cell manufacturing, inkjet printing deposits metal paste directly onto the surface of the cell through very miniscule openings of a highly efficient, parallel print head, providing a contactless, maskless printing alternative to conventional screen printing and stencil printing. This dispensing process provides the PV industry with multifaceted benefits over conventional screen printing, such as those outlined below.

Increased efficiency and electricity output

In screen printing, a squeegee is used to push the metal paste through the screen openings and onto the wafer surface. The typical line width is 55–80 μm, resulting in shadowing loss of 7–10 percent. Moreover, lines have a low aspect ratio of c.a. 0.2–0.5.

In inkjet printing, the lines can be made much thinner, exposing a larger semiconductor surface to the sunlight. The lines also have a better aspect ratio, ensuring a larger portion of incoming sunlight is reflected towards the wafer instead of back into the air. These two factors increase efficiency by approximately 1 percent and electricity output.

Reduced metal paste consumption

In screen printing, the wire mesh and emulsion screens are repeatedly used and the openings can gradually get blocked or deform, resulting in lines broadening, becoming irregular and having ragged edges.

In inkjet printing, finer lines with higher aspect ratios and lower striations can be achieved. Moreover, high-speed dispensing using intermittent parallel operation of hundreds of nozzles down to several micron can be flexibly optimised in terms of nozzle number and arrangement. The accuracy and flexibility enable homogeneous line shape, contributing to a 20 percent reduction in metal paste consumption.

Significant throughput potential

Inkjet printing, being non-contact, promises a lower reject rate if used on thinner Si wafers. Also, being inline, it increases throughput significantly over conventional screen printing.

To sum up, the maskless nature of inkjet printing affords a high material utilisation rate, improved output and efficiency, freedom of design and significant throughput potential. Moreover, it can be directly integrated into an existing silicon PV cell production facility, replacing the screen printing process utilised for front-side metal contacts.

How electroforming has empowered the contactless metallisation process

A vital part of the dispensing print head is the high-precision nozzle plate, produced using electroforming, a micro-precision, metal additive manufacturing (AM) process combining lithography and electrodeposition. The nozzle plate is a rectangular, elongated part with miniature holes, through which the metal paste is pressed and deposited via the nozzles onto the PV cell in very thin straight lines.           

inkjet nozzle plates

inkjet nozzle plates gold plated

Another significant advantage of  electroforming is reproducibility. The process affords precision of approximately 5 μm. In a plate that has 100 to 200 miniature nozzles in a straight line, each of those nozzles needs to be the correct size, not only on each plate but on every plate and across different batches of the plate. Electroforming guarantees reproducibility, meaning the same drawing and process setup translates to perfectly uniform and reproducible printing results and the exact same product time and time again.

Electroforming can also be used to produce special hole geometries; for example, bell mouth shaped holes not achievable using traditional cutting and drilling processes. These holes can effectively reduce blinding/clogging of the plate/nozzles, thus ensuring exceptional paste release performance.

A final point of note is that plate material resistance is especially important in PV cell production because the metal paste used can be corrosive. Also, the pressure applied to push the paste through the plate makes deformation a potential risk. For these reasons, Veco offers a range of alloys that have highly stable contact resistance and excellent mechanical characteristics, ensuring exceptional printing performance over a longer lifetime.

got ideas, questions or just want to learn more about electroforming? get in touch!