The IDTechEx Printed Electronics Europe 2009 event opened this morning in Dresden, Germany. Over 760 attendees had pre-registered with many more registering on the morning of the event, making this the world's largest event on the topic, and significantly bigger than last year. The event opened with keynotes from a range of leading end-users discussing their needs from printed electronics to state of the art developments with new printed electronics products. Here Dr Peter Harrop, Chairman of IDTechEx, gives the highlights.
The opening presentation was given by Raghu Das, CEO of IDTechEx, who noted how the industry is now in fast growth mode. He observed that the conference had well over 100 extra delegates compared with last year - one of the few conferences in the world growing rapidly despite the recession and testimony to the burgeoning interest in the subject. Indeed, for the first time this year a huge number of potential users are attending and many are speaking at the conference. Several of the world's largest consumer goods companies have set up task forces to explore use of printed electronics. IDTechEx is commencing a major multiclient study of the highest volume opportunities for e-labels and others can still join. He presented detailed market forecasts for the industry over the next ten years, highlighting the importance of flexible products incorporating electrophoretic and OLED displays and printed transistors. He saw an increase in work on inorganic transistors driven by their greatly superior characteristics.
Clemens Turck of Europe's leading board game manufacturer Ravensberger described experience with printed electronics. His industry needs many of the benefits that printed electronics can bring such as wide-area, self-sufficient and above all low-cost electronics. Ravensberger's early experience of printed electronics was mixed because of problems with moisture, human interaction, reproduceability etc. It therefore moved back to conventional electronics but now sees printing of electronics as the way of the future.
Professor Pietro Perlo of Fiat showed how printed and thin film electronics is needed on and in cars for sensors and many other things. He particularly looked at photovoltaics, noting that even in the UK a purely solar-powered car can manage 15km per day. He forecasted that improvement will be rapid because some of the new photovoltaics are transparent, permitting the largest area of the car to be utilised and copper indium gallium diselenide becoming the most cost effective option by 2012, when 50% of photovoltaic production will be thin film. He described a rear light module that incorporates RFID, photovoltaics and LEDs. He foresaw printing entirely all components including batteries on top of each other, reel-to-reel, to make one lighting cluster and the same approach being used for other vehicle modules. He said Europe has recently committed over two billion euros on electric vehicles, more than the USA.
Dr Paul Beecher of Nokia similarly inspired, with a brief of "Turning cutting edge science into human compatible solutions". However, he concentrated on nanotechnology. Stretchable, thin, transparent, conformal devices are the priority and the Morph phone exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art was one result. This will be on sale by "about the middle of the next decade". One useful new component being investigated is the combined battery and capacitor sometimes called a supercabattery. This can extend talk time and reduce associated circuitry such as capacitors and AC-DC conversion circuits and it can involve nanotubes. Zinc oxide nanowires for tactile and flexural sensor arrays are being developed too. Shear transfer printing is employed with these. Stretchable electronics with transistors and transducers on islands is being demonstrated. Silicon nanowire lithography is looking promising too, potentially leading to such things as wide area transistor circuits.
Konrad Herre of Plastic Logic described his new factory in Dresden for next generation e-books, which will be flexible and driven by organic transistor arrays which match amorphous silicon performance but are tightly rollable. About 500,000 Amazon Kindle e-readers were sold in 2008, its first full year of trading and over 300,000 Sony e-Readers. This is small and rigid but the trend is now to A4 for convenience and downloading of business document without modification. Colour , video and large area to follow. For Plastic Logic, a ten year journey from Cambridge University origins to trials in 2009 will culminate in open sale of the product in 2010 with ramp up to one million units yearly. Key IP is printing inorganic and organic materials and their laser processing plus materials evaluation methods.
Dr John Bacon described the massive problems with current foldable photovoltaics on spacecraft and the need for unrollable photovoltaics using printing as long as they are protected against the massively oxidising environment in near earth orbit. NASA also needs the lighter weight and fault tolerance of printed electronics for general use. However, because of funding constraints, newer technologies will need to wait for distant space missions because the moon program is tasked with using existing proven technologies.
Matthew Timm of Soligie described how coin cells cost only 1.1 cent and some displays are about 12 cents per square inch so printed electronics alternatives cannot compete on price in the near future and must compete on power (low), form (eg thin, flexible, frangible) and function. He described a plethora of actual and potential applications which meet these criteria. Soligie deposits functional materials onto flexible substrates using additive processes and welcoming partnerships, current examples including Blue Spark printed batteries; ACREO printed transistors, displays, etc; Toumaz body area networks and Thin Film Technology printed memory. Toys, games, novelties, disposable access cards and medical products and consumables, physiological monitoring and interactive RFID look promising for now.
Amir Mashkoori of Kovio gave the latest progress with his printed nanosilicon transistors which have the highest performance and will be generally available in 2010. Sampling has already begun and a target is to replace trillions of barcodes, something the silicon chip can never do. This is claimed to be the world's first all-printed transistor and it has far better environmental credentials than the silicon chip it will replace in RFID. Indeed, it uses 4% of the materials and far less energy in manufacture and he sees it being used where silicon chips are overkill. For the world's favourite RFID specification ISO 14443, initially it offers 128 bits for only five cents, with three cents planned for later. Basically, Kovio will build intelligence into everyday things with tags read by mobile phones being particularly promising. Partners include Panasonic, Cubic Corporation and Toppan Forms.