This conference in Gothenburg Sweden was mainly in Swedish and partly in English with just over 40 attending and excellent content. It was backed by Scanpack, the large Scandinavian packaging conference that takes place every three years, the next being in 2009.
Publisher Nord Emballage was the organiser and the speakers were from Scandinavia with the exception of Dr Peter Harrop of IDTechEx UK who gave the opening keynote presentation and Professor Andrew Mills from Strathclyde University Scotland who spoke on non-electronic smart labels.
Bo Wallteg of Nord Emballage opened by noting how the electronic smart label on consumer goods is imminent, one concept being the cornflake packet that offers product information in your language of choice, games, condition monitoring and more.
One delegate told us how his company has to print information on packages in 29 languages at present. No one was in doubt about the severe problems in printing more and more on packages by conventional means. Indeed, one organisation "i Pack" present was dedicated to "bringing printed electronics to consumer goods" partly to solve such problems and partly to add new features.
Here and now
Peter Harrop covered a broad sweep of potential and actual applications. He noted that companies such as T-ink, e-Ink, Toppan Forms, GSI, Electroluminate, Schreiner, Delphi, Avery Dennison and Power Paper are already 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. Mostly they employ inorganic and composite electronic inks.
Planning for the billion dollar opportunities
Confident of the potential, it is now possible for the industry to create billion dollar business, in this new technology. For example, IDTechEx is offering membership of a multi client study of what is wanted and possible in the form of e-labels and e-packaging over the next few years, the emphasis being on finding products that can be sold horizontally from healthcare to consumer goods and military applications, thus achieving the vital economy of scale that will make them affordable in tens of billions yearly and maybe more. If you wish to learn more, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
One of the many aspects of the subject that he highlighted was transparent electronics and its huge potential on packaging. He described transparent loudspeakers, batteries, transistors and lighting, for example. He summarised where the new electronics will be used and his roundup on the technology was:
- Ink jet printing is now the most popular printing method - it tolerates uneven surfaces, has little waste and is easily programmed with rapid, low cost set up and changes. But it is not very fast or very high definition. Plenty of alternatives are coming along.
- Capacitor like structures with the top conducting stripes at right angles to the bottom ones are favoured for most devices to avoid registration problems
- Inorganic, organic and combined solutions are employed - ongoing
- Where organic materials are involved, lifetime and performance are usually a problem
- Where inorganic materials are involved, printability and annealing temperature are usually a problem
- Where liquids are used (eg DSSC PV, electrophoretic displays, Li ion batteries) even winter temperatures in Europe and North America can be a problem eg -5C
- Products have sharply improved functionality and saleability when they employ smart substrates and many components printed on top of each other. Reliability and cost can also improve. He noted that there is not enough work on this.
- Too much time is being wasted on trying to improve existing devices within existing parameters eg TV, phones.
The audience was riveted by Christer Lagnell of Effective Shop Charge Systems who described how he has had an automated, unmanned shop selling seafood in Gothenburg for five years. Even when the HF RFID labels cost one euro he got a payback but prices have tumbled and he will move to UHF RFID soon for further cost saving although the very wet and metallic environment provides challenges at that frequency.
Professor Andrew Mills described non electronic labels that responded to time/ temperature, volatile ketones and amines and other parameters correlating with degradation of foods.
One substantial unsolved problem where printed electronics will help concerned the 55 billion "Modified Atmosphere Packaging" (MAP) packages sold yearly in the world, about 25 billion of which have a separate oxygen scavenger inside that must not be eaten - mostly in Japan. The main problem is monitoring if they are doing their job because non-electronic solutions are unreliable and expensive. For example, the Mitsubishi Gas color changing product that is widely used costs 70 cents and unstable. Often there is just manual checking of one in 200 packages for punctures and, if they are found, the batch is usually scrapped - very hit and miss. Some oxygen indicators need a separate electronic reader that is expensive.