Industry Insights
The Movement Toward Thinner Films February 7, 2012 | by Todd Arndorfer |

As consumer and industrial products continue to feature smaller, thinner and higher performing attributes, there has been a resulting shift in the coatings industry toward using thinner films and substrates for these products. For example, where a 4-mil film used to be standard, an application may now require a 2-mil film. There are two primary drivers for this: reduced material cost, resulting in a lower price for customers or increased margins for manufacturers, and a reduction in weight/size to enable both aesthetic and functional attributes, as well as easier handling and lower shipping costs.

A common type of application that requires the use of thinner materials is LCD, OLED and bistable displays for handheld devices or computer displays. This category of products incorporates multiple layers of different types of films, up to 20, which are ultimately layered or assembled together. Each layer is important as it provides specific performance attributes. In LCD displays, for example, there are protective, prism, diffusing, liquid crystal and polarizing layers, among others, that work together to create the image. The thickness of those layers adds up in terms of both light transmission efficiency and weight. To alleviate this, thinner film layers can help improve brightness and substantially reduce weight and thickness.

The same principle applies to a variety of industries; as products become more sophisticated, multiple layers are a highly effective way to improve product performance. For example enhanced packaging films, where several layers with individual attributes are combined to make a higher-performing film: one layer to provide a barrier to oxygen and moisture to protect the product, another to print high quality graphics for branding, and a third layer on top to protect during handling and distribution. Again, thinner layers are required to reduce cost, bulk and weight. For the electronic components that go into a wide variety of handheld devices, or virtually anything that has a photolithography step to create patterns, thinner foils with thinner coatings are needed to enable features that use less real estate.

Batteries in handhelds (such as lithium ion) are another great example of an application that requires reduced thickness and weight. Add to this newer battery constructions that promise to revolutionize the industry with nanoscale constructions, including paper batteries and thin film/solid state batteries. These new battery constructions rely on the use of thin films to achieve increased energy storage in significantly smaller packages. Another major industry that drives the use of thin coatings is aviation, as reduced weight is a huge driver for everything from insulation on wiring to film used on exterior skin in place of paint.

Regardless of the final application, quality is clearly an essential element. However, the coating of thinner films presents several unique challenges such as tearing, wrinkling, creasing, stretching and more, which may ultimately affect product quality. When searching for the right partner for multi-layer coating needs, one should look for an organization that has implemented process controls to effectively handle the challenges presented by the use of thinner films to create high-quality multi-layer coatings for the highest performing applications. This includes more sophisticated web tension control, rollers specially designed for thin web, and improved airflow in the dryers.

Additionally, the partner’s supplier relationships are a critical factor to consider. It is important to work with a coating partner that has established relationships with film suppliers and possesses the technical knowledge to understand what film properties are necessary and important. An experienced coating partner will also have worked with those suppliers to help them improve processes to deliver materials that ultimately result in better products for the end customers. Furthermore, established supplier relationships can also result in cost advantages from a volume/purchasing standpoint.  Contact Carestream Contract Manufacturing today to learn more.

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