We learned recently that metal ink developer Five Star Technologies has closed its doors, and former CEO Tim Fahey was good enough to speak with us about the decision to shut down operations. The company had developed a unique cavitation process for dispersing fine particles (see the April 20, 2009 LREJ – client registration required). When we last profiled Five Star, it was taking aim at solar cell metallization applications, with silver pastes for screen printing and silver inks for inkjet printing that enabled finer lines and features. Tim said the company concluded it lacked the resources to compete with leaders like DuPont, Heraeus, and Ferro in the silver paste market. Namely, Five Star was able to develop a paste that had comparable performance; but, without a significant technical advantage, entering the market was too daunting a task in the face of larger competitors’ superior sales, distribution, and manufacturing resources.
At the end of 2009, investors funded it for an additional year so it could try to apply its technology to another market: It focused on silver inks for printing of interconnects around the outer edges of touch screens. While Tim said it made some commercial headway, scoring a few hundred thousand dollars in revenues, it ultimately landed in the same dead end: Marginal technical improvements weren’t enough to displace incumbents like Asahi Chemical Research Laboratory.
Tim said, “In the end, I don’t think cavitation creates an ‘oh wow’ advantage.” His implied point is well-taken: For start-ups, a step change in performance is really needed to effectively go after large incumbent firms. Five Star’s IP has reverted to its parent, Cavitech Holding Company, which is negotiating licensing deals with former customers and partners. Clients interested can contact us for an introduction.