The printed electronics industry shows a huge interest in sensors as it seeks to forget the failures from the past.
Two years ago I started covering the topic of printed and flexible sensors. Since then I have been visiting companies, taking pictures of new devices at tradeshows, and generally keeping my finger on the pulse.
Combined with our team's extensive research on printed electronics, this work led to the publication of a market report, which quickly became one of our bestsellers. The feedback so far has been overwhelmingly positive and we have discovered that many companies want to understand the opportunities in printed sensors. After listening to their requests the new edition, Printed and Flexible Sensors 2015-2025: Technologies, Players, Forecasts
now contains more detailed forecasts and more company profiles.
But why is there such an interest in printed sensors?
There are two driving forces behind this trend. The first one is history.
When I explain printed electronics, I like to distinguish between the old printed electronics and the new one. A decade ago, people were trying to replace silicon by organic
semiconductors - materials that could be directly printed. This idea that you could make transistors in a roll-to-roll fashion just like a newspaper was ambitious, to say the least. Most people in the industry now would agree that this agenda was too heroic.
Nowadays, printed electronics encompass a larger variety of materials and devices. The objective is no longer to replace silicon but to complement it by offering new functionalities. Sensors are particularly attractive because they usually have a simple structure, which makes manufacturing easier. Some companies who have accumulated a great amount of expertise in printed electronics are now looking at sensors as their best chance to make money.
Fig 1. Various examples of printed sensors demonstrated at events (Photo: G. Chansin)
The second driver is the gold rush for new sensor technologies for two of today's hottest topics: wearable technologies and the Internet of Things
(IoT). In both types of applications, the sensor is the component that generates meaningful data and therefore justifies the whole infrastructure and ecosystem. Without sensors, it just would not make sense to connect everything around us to the cloud.
In wearables, the focus should be on developing capabilities that go well beyond what the typical accelerometer or gyroscope can do. Some very innovative concepts have already been put forward by companies like Electrozyme, who won the Best Product Development Award at our Printed Electronics
USA event last November.
However, it would be a mistake to think that wearable technology is the main market for printed sensors. In fact, wearables could just be the tip of the iceberg as many industries increase their demand for better sensors. From what I have seen, it is evident that printed sensors can be useful in a wide range of applications. Just look at some of the examples below.
Fig 2. Pressure sensing mat (Photo: G. Chansin)
Fig 3. Strip of printed photodetectors (Photo: G. Chansin)
Fig 4. Capacitive touch sensors for automotive (Photo: G. Chansin)
After years of working on the wrong applications, the printed electronics
industry is now focused on bringing products to the market. Sensors may be the lowest hanging fruit but they still represent a solid opportunity. If the current technology trends are any indication of what is coming up, the next decade could be a golden age for sensors.
About Dr Guillaume Chansin
He will present the webinar "Printed Sensors: Progress in Manufacturing and Commercialisation" on March 10. For more information on the webinar and to register for free, go to the IDTechEx webinar page
He will also be presenting at the IDTechEx Europe 2015 event in Berlin, Germany, on 28-29 April 2015.
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