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SAFI-Tech is Revolutionizing Flexible Electronics Manufacturing

The smartphones, tablets, and laptops that we tow around every day have dramatically changed our lives, but the “smart” tech invasion has only begun. The connectivity of the Internet of Things is pushing devices to become wearable, lighter, rugged, flexible, and more energy-efficient—and at the same time, it’s pushing the limits of manufacturing.

All electronics manufacturers face the challenge of electrically connecting the components in their devices. Traditionally this has been done by heating and melting metal solder. However, the heat needed to melt solder can destroy the device’s base or its components—a major problem in flexible electronic device manufacturing.

SAFI-Tech, an Iowa Innovation Corporation (IICorp) client, has developed a super cool solution.

SAFI-Tech’s patent-pending technology, LiquitalTM, can solder components without heat. Liquital consists of tiny particles—about 1/50 the size of a human hair—that are filled with a super-cooled liquid metal. Once the particles are broken, the liquid metal core flows out and turns solid on its own, forming an electrical connection without heating.

Dr. Ian Tevis and Dr. Martin Thuo formed SAFI-Tech in 2014. The pair sought to commercialize the technology invented in Dr. Thuo’s research lab at Iowa State University (ISU). ISU is well-known for its innovations in metals technology—most notably, lead-free solder. SAFI-Tech intends to build on ISU’s success with technology that’s both lead- and heat-free. Originally planning to locate in Boston, the SAFI-Tech founders changed their minds after hearing a pitch by ISU StartUp Factory President, Bill Adamowski. Adamowski described the resources available to young companies through the IICorp and explained how the StartUp Factory guides entrepreneurs in creating their business models. Both of these resources made SAFI-Tech’s choice to operate out of Ames, Iowa, an easy one.

SAFI-Tech’s Chief Technical Officer, Dr. Tevis, says, “Without the grant proposal writing assistance from IICorp, SAFI-Tech would not have won its first-ever SBIR award from the NSF for $225,000 in 2016. We also are grateful for the $25,000 grant match from IICorp, which gave us the opportunity to interact with potential partners and customers at faraway conferences.”

At the Printed Electronics Conference 2016 presented by IDTechEx, a panel of industry experts presented the Technical Development Materials Award to SAFI-Tech for its low-temperature material—an honor that Dr. Tevis said would not have been possible without the support of IICorp.

SAFI-Tech is continuing to develop its no-heat Liquital technology to meet industry standards for flexible and printed electronics and 3D-printing of metals.