Printed electronics - The magic arrives
Nov 13, 2008 Dr Peter Harrop
Electronic circuits that are wholly or substantially printed are a commercial success today. Companies such as T-ink, E Ink, Toppan Forms, Soligie, GSI, Electroluminate, Schreiner, Delphi, Avery Dennison and Power Paper are selling printed electronic products to many famous brands such as Timberland, Caterpillar, Sears Craftsman, Hallmark, ToysRUs, John Dickinson, Kent, McDonald's, Estee Lauder, Ford, Toyota, GM, Playtex, Coca-Cola, Pepsi Cola, Duracell, NTT DoCoMo and Sony.
Brand enhancement is a popular theme, from the tester on a battery to the animated display on a recent edition of Esquire magazine and the heated outdoor apparel of many famous brands.
The world's largest conference on the subject will once again take place in the San Francisco area - Printed Electronics USA in San Jose December 3 to 4 - and will be truly international. See www.IDTechEx.com/peUSA. On past trends, attendance will be about 800 and there will be a large exhibition. Although most of the speakers at the conference and optional Masterclasses are from the USA, powerhouse of this new industrial opportunity, the foreign contribution is substantial as shown below:
Distribution of foreign contributors to Printed Electronics USA December 3-4
Achieving the impossible
Printed electronics employs state of the art physics and chemistry to achieve what was thought impossible only recently. This is reflected in sessions such as one on "Healthcare and Bionic Man" and another on "Smart Substrates and Stretchable Electronics". Electronics as art is covered as is a broad sweep of printed and thin film components, including ones potentially using graphene. Add the new metamaterials based on micropatterning by flexo printing. They promise the cloak of invisibility and previously impossible electrical, electronic and optical components. Pioneers Imperial College London reveals, "Metamaterials - for Super Lenses and Invisibility Cloaks from DC to Optics".
Transforming the human interface - staggeringly better brand enhancement
Probably one of the hottest topics this year is how, after 1000 years of static print, the human interface is now starting to use many of the eleven senses instead of one. Never forget that one in three Americans have difficulty reading instructions because they are sight-impaired, illiterate, dyslexic etc and print is being made ever smaller to get everything in - a bizarre failure for a nation that got to the moon over forty years ago. For example, e-labels and e-packaging will employ electronic texture change, controlled aroma emission, localised sound and recording and many interactive features.
This is therefore about transforming brands, not just saving lives when up to 25% of medication accidents are down to failure to comprehend written instructions and from lack of prompts from the package. Avery Dennison gives a case study of printed electronics in consumer goods. A key to this is for brand managers and brand facing suppliers to employ creative design using this new kit of parts instead of languishing in the wrong century. That is covered too.
Visit the magic
There are optional visits. They include Kovio, which replaces the silicon chip and antenna in an RFID label with a dramatically cost reduced printed version - that being merely a bridge to transforming low cost flexible electronics and photovoltaics in general. Visit Rfidium which will take you on a tour of the RFID processes leading to high volume production. The Fuji Film Dimatix visit covers new fluid dispensing micropumps and inkjet technology and Vitex will show you their transparent ultra-thin barrier layers for flat panel displays. The University of California Berkeley tour takes in nanoparticle synthesis, gravure, inkjet and test facilities for printed electronics.
No one will be in doubt that this is shortly to become a multi-billion dollar industry transforming healthcare, printing, labelling, packaging, power generation, lighting, and many other industries. Nokia presents "Morph - Transformable Mobile Device". Structural Graphics describes the recent success of electrophoretic displays on and in Esquire magazine and Apple will explain its approach. Goldman Sachs presents "Solar from Wall Street" and delegates will learn how intelligent batteries are now being printed by NEC of Japan.
Paper electronics and radically advanced packaging for everyone
Mr Keiichi Utaka is Managing Director of the multi-billion dollar Toppan Forms in Japan. It has demonstrated the e-shop, disposable electronic paper maps and Audio Paper now selling well in promotions. He will talk on "Possibilities and Influence of Printed Electronics". Packaging giant Stora Enso of Finland is also launching an impressive array of paper electronic products. They will speak on "Printed, Combined and Low Cost Intelligence for Consumer Applications". Northrop Grumman covers "Nanotube Radio Paper", the University of California Berkeley report success with electronic nose sensors for consumer packaging.
Professor Elvira Fortunato from the New Lisbon University in Portugal describes her radically different printed paper transistor. Then there is ACREO of Sweden summarising what the multi-nation Sustainpack project has achieved in making electronic packaging that interfaces with many human senses. Paradoxically, there is also a path to replacing paper in books, catalogues and so on and on products such as mobile phones and that is covered by E Ink which sits astride this new business by providing the low cost, flexible display front planes that only take electricity when the image is altered.
Bionic man and woman
The conference covers interfacing thin film electronics with the human body, a thin film electronic contact lens, low power body monitoring and other breakthroughs leading to devolved healthcare and bionic man and woman.
Power and energy harvesting
Most of the applications of printed electronics call for local power sources that are safe, environmental and printed or at least thin. Conventional silicon photovoltaics have glass to cut you and it is heavy, rigid and expensive. The new photovoltaics is printed or at least rapidly deposited reel to reel, being light-weight, low cost and sometimes even transparent and working off heat as well as light so it can be used on packaging, toys and much else besides including replacing power stations.
New displays, materials and printing technology
Electronic displays from billboards to retinal projection will be covered including OLED advances, a new ultra low power electrochromic display from AJJER and the latest ultra thin and flexible electrophoretic e-books, shelf labels, remotely programmable apparel pricing and so on. Kraft and other users describe their experiences. In addition, there is much on new materials and printing processes and the challenge of some materials becoming scarce. The new hot topic of printing copper to replace silver is center stage and then there is replacing indium.
Raghu Das, CEO of analysts IDTechEx that are organising the show says, "We are frequently asked whether the financial meltdown has altered our view on the size of the emerging printed electronics business. We reply that, so far, it is more a case of companies accelerating their move into the future. There may be an impact with perhaps some small companies finding it tougher to raise funding in certain countries but more important is the rush of giant companies into what will be one of the biggest revolutions of this century, impacting most aspects of human life. Henkel, Bayer, Solvay, Shell, BP, BASF, Robert Bosch and every big name in printing, packaging and electronics in Japan - they are all joining the party. To give you the full list would take a long time but we do offer a contacts database of over 700 organizations now in the field out of 2250, up 50% from two years ago. This one won't go away. Our recent conference Printed Electronics Asia in Tokyo doubled its income over the year before and it has received very favourable reviews. Interest is at a very high level."