Printed electronics is one of the most important new enabling technologies. It will have a major impact on most business activities from publishing and security printing to healthcare, automotive, military and consumer packaged goods sectors. It is now recognised that commercialisation can and should take place in very disparate applications, contrasting with the rather narrow view of possibilities in the past.
Very different approach by region
However, the regions of the world see printed electronics differently. For example, the USA focuses on the military applications among others. For example, Dr Brian Fuchs of the US Army describes printing processes and novel ink development for armament applications. He notes that,
"Through the advancement of materials printing, superior capabilities can be added to military assets".
Also in the USA, the now Taiwanese-owned E-Ink has recently progressed to colour versions of its electrophoretic displays, interestingly seeing them as useful for textbooks first.
East Asia wishes to use printed electronics to reinforce its dominance in electronic displays such as flat panel television screens and e-readers - for that is where most of the leading brands are made - and generally in consumer electronics and photovoltaics.
Broad approach in Europe
Europe has interest in a very wide range of potential applications, with consumer packaged goods being just one of many applicational sectors prioritised. Peter Johansson of In-Core Systems of France develops vision inspection for the typical roll-to-roll coating manufacturing processes employed. He has practical experience of metal film coating for batteries for electric cars, for example. Flexible Electronics Concepts in the UK has major contracts to make innovative designs of smart label and smart packaging for both the electrical and consumer packaged goods industries.
Leader in paper electronics
It is in Europe where most of the successes in printing electronic and electrical components onto paper takes place. Professor ArvedHuebler of Chemnitz University of Technology Institute for Print and Media Technology in Germany puts it this way,
"Printed electronics is the upcoming big innovation for the traditional paper based print media market - with a strong economic impact. This ten years old statement is still very true, but do we need another ten years for finding the killer application? For a lot of reasons, mass printed photovoltaics on paper could become a hot candidate, outpacing the trusty old printed RFID vision."
Security printer De La Rue of the UK is about to reveal, "Power into Paper - a New Paradigm". The European Commission FACESS project is progressing a basic building block of printed electronics that puts organic photovoltaics, printed rechargeable lithium-ion batteries and associated electronics all on one small piece of flexible polymer film, with paper a possibility later.
The USA, Europe and East Asia are all working hard on printed Organic Light Emitting Diode technology for lighting and signage and on rechargeable laminar batteries. Many of these are now at the tipping point of commercial production. Gary R. Johnson President and CEO of Blue Spark Technologies in the USA, which prints disposable batteries for interactive media - modernizing paper magazines, point of sale and so on - observes that,
"Exciting applications for printed electronics lie in interactive packaging, ubiquitous sensor networks for health care, RFID and other areas. Today, the value proposition is mainly based on the value of uniquely thin, flat; flexible product forms not otherwise achievable. Moreover, as yet, they are still partly based on traditional silicon and other technologies, such as silicon chips, with a clear roadmap to fully printing components such as printed transistors and OLEDS."
Certainly, Europe is looking at a far broader range of printed components than is pursued in East Asia. To take one example, Professor Werner Jillek of the Georg Simon Ohm University of Applied Sciencesin Germany finds that Inkjet printing of nano-particles is a novel technology for manufacturing electronic devices. With silver inks, conductive lines are printed which after a sintering process exhibit sufficient conductivity for various applications. As a demonstrator, the double-sided layout pattern of an FM radio is printed with discrete components attached by conductive glue.
In addition, resistors are integrated by inkjet printing as well, using dispersed carbon nanotubes. The sheet resistance can easily be adjusted by repeated printing and the saturation settings in graphic programs.
Whereas laminar lithium-ion rechargeable batteries are made by many companies in North America, Dr Kari Ronka VTT Finland has recently claimed to be printed them. Such truly solid state batteries are the future vision for both large traction batteries and small laminar batteries.
David Lussey of Peratech in the USA is involved in "Quantum Tunnelling Composites (QTC) in Textile and Film Touch-screens, Controls and Sensors" In a printable electronic ink formQTC now allows the construction of sensors, switches, touch controls and touch-screens without the need for air gaps or stand-offs.
Over in Europe, Bayer MaterialScience AG has created what it calls a "New dimension for touch screen applications with fidelity haptics using dielectric actuators".
Commercialisation must now be the priority
Raghu Das CEO of IDTechEx notes that, "Certainly Europe now has a huge variety of printed electronic technologies - organic, inorganic and composite - and a rapidly broadening vision of how widely they can be applied. Newly printed components are announced al the time. However, the Europeans must work to commercialise as effectively as the Americans and East Asians.
That is why our forthcoming event Printed Electronics Europe 2011 strongly emphasises commercialisation. It benchmarks best practice from outside Europe in aspects where the Europeans are laggards. This year, we even have an End User Forum - something more appropriate to Europe's needs than peer reviewed academic papers."
The largest event on the subject
All the organisations mentioned above will be presenting at Printed Electronics Europe 2011 in Düsseldorf Germany which takes place April 5-6. Another annual IDTechEx event is Printed Electronics USA which takes place at the end of the year. Both have streams on the new flexible photovoltaics in the two day conference and exhibition and they have optional masterclasses and visits to local centres of excellence on the day before and the day after and both have an awards dinner. These events vie for the title of world's largest event on the subject each year.
For more attend: Printed Electronics Europe 2011.