Following the success of the IDTechEx Printed Electronics conference in the US in 2004, IDTechEx held Printed Electronics Europe in Cambridge, UK with a new speaker line up covering more topics. Over 170 people from 20 countries attended the conference in April, several new announcements were made and both applications and technologies were covered. Despite the name the topic covers non printed devices (such as those made by spin coating), organic semiconductors, inorganic semiconductors beyond conventional silicon chips, other necessary materials from conductors to substrates and the full range of manufacture techniques and components they make up. For most applications printing the electronics is the goal, where high volume throughput and low device cost can be achieved. This is indeed a vast subject with a vast potential - Motorola recently estimated the potential market size of organic semiconductors to be $350 billion and if you consider printed conductors and increasingly inorganic semiconductors we estimate the figure could be over $400 billon. To put that in perspective that's double the size of the silicon industry today yet it will not mainly replace silicon chips, but create new markets where silicon cannot go and enable other applications such as large area lighting (replacing most light bulbs), electronic sensing and so on. Despite the conference name scarcely representing all of these opportunities it is these technologies and applications the conference addressed, with the healthy intent to provoke thought of different market needs and how the technology can help.
Dr Peter Harrop of IDTechEx highlighted some of the problems of printed electronics today i.e. opportunities. Indium Tin Oxide, the transparent conductor used for displays cracks when regularly flexed and is expensive; silver, despite being an expensive precious metal, is used for conductive tracks and RFID tag antennas and displays are generally still too thick, power hungry and expensive. There is a shortage of printed memory technology and companies who are working on the full range of electronic components. One failure mode of silicon is its need to connect it to different bulky components and devices, which printed electronics can overcome if many devices can be printed together. Peter spoke of how silicon circuits today need to be carefully tested because they are expensive and take a long time to turnaround, but he cited that every printed electronic circuit could be unique, with dedicated memory written as the circuit is printed.
IDTechEx eventually see the need to move to printing electronics on high speed presses, where vast volumes and large active areas will be needed, but currently most of the work is on inkjet printing these devices. Many new products incorporating printed electronics are emerging, such as the rum bottle in the US with a printed electroluminescent label that flashes each time the whisky bottle is picked up (the bottle retails for $55).
For more, details of the announcements and developments made at Printed Electronics Europe will be published here on Printed Electronics Review over the next few weeks. Refer back for details.
You can purchase the conference proceedings and audio of the presentations by going to www.printelec.com .