The Centre for Process Innovation (CPI), the UK's technology innovation provider for process manufacturing, has successfully expanded the capabilities of its National Printable Electronics Centre to assist companies exploit the commercial opportunities offered by the Internet of Things (IoT). Access to facilities to scale up hardware as part of a solution is vital if SMEs and other companies are to participate in the growth in the sector during the next decade.
The new thin, flexible form factors offered by printed electronics and the potential to embed electronics within products, offers designers unique opportunities to combine product with enhanced functionality and connectivity. The ability to integrate sensing, communications, display and energy sources into thin form factors and at volume, creates a new opportunity for IoT products. This includes the use of Near Field Communication (NFC), Radio Frequency Identification Device (RFID) as well as other forms of data transmission. This capability opens up new opportunities for wearable technologies, smart packaging and healthcare devices. The incorporation of these tags and others like them into products increases freedom for designers and provides the opportunities to make the next economy-driving innovations. Through the expansion of the National Printable Electronics Centre, CPI will be able to offer companies the capability to create new flexible hybrid electronic devices that are wireless, smarter, interactive, conformable, thinner and lightweight.
The new, cutting edge £4.5m facility has been created thanks to funding from the European Regional Development Fund, Department of Business, Energy, Innovation and Skills through the AMSCI project and CPI.
The capabilities include new roll to roll capability to integrate thin film and conventional electronics onto a flexible film to produce electronic inlays at high volume. The unit can surface mount a wide range of components from thin film, printed electronic components to packaged IC and bare die onto a variety of flexible substrates. Multiple components can be mounted on a single inlay. New converting capability can integrate these inlays into SMART labels, at high volume. This end-to-end production process, coupled with printing of antennae and electronic circuits and device design capabilities, uniquely positions CPI to work with companies to design, develop and scale to pilot manufacturing, the next generation of integrated, flexible components.
IoT applications require internet connected devices that combine sensing, energy sources and processing power. Frequently, a thin flexible form factor is also required and this may be achieved using a hybrid approach, combining the processing power of conventional electronics with the form factor of printed electronics. This is how CPI's new capabilities and the extension to its National Printed Electronics Centre will substantially benefit its clients. Specific applications for these new resources could include packaging that can track and trace goods, packaging that can monitor the condition of the contents, for example medication and retail goods with thin, anti-counterfeit electronics.
With the capabilities of this new equipment, CPI is now in a unique position to work with companies and their products, both in the development, testing and optimisation of product design and in the development of manufacturing processes that can be proven in yield at relevant industrial volumes. While many companies may only specialise in an area of design, application or production, CPI is now capable to combine all three, to help companies of all sizes to create, generate and market test their products seamlessly.
To be successful in such a dynamic and emerging field necessitates a range of expertise and experience. Fortunately, as a UK-leading technology innovation centre, professionals at CPI have been partners in some of the most recent and innovative IoT application projects.
In this way, CPI is delighted to be contributing towards tackling the UK's current productivity challenge. IoT offers many new and disruptive opportunities to improve productivity across whole industries. For example, in the healthcare and life science sectors, the monitoring of medicines through manufacturing, distribution and in use, could save billions of pounds in the prevention of waste. Furthermore, solutions to help improve the adherence of patients to take their medication according to the prescription could improve the medical outcome for the patient as well as financial savings. In addition, new bio-based drugs and personalised medicines are driving need for significantly different supply chains and a need for real time data.
"Thanks to these new resources, CPI is now uniquely placed to provide clients with thin, flexible electronics at an unparalleled scale," says John Cocker, Platform Director at CPI. "With the Internet of Things developing fast, CPI is now even better prepared, with this investment in design and manufacturing capability, to meet the market's future technological needs."
Meet CPI on booth G16 at Printed Electronics Europe in Berlin on 11-12 April - www.PrintedElectronicsEurope.com.