This IDTechEx conference attracted more delegates than last year - approaching 200 - and the breadth of materials and technologies, devices and applications on offer reflected the breakneck speed at which the subject is progressing. That said, most of the delegates and exhibitors were from the beginning of the value chain, developing and offering materials, machinery and other enabling technology. There are many challenges, opportunities and breakthroughs in this area.
Complex variety of printing technology in use
Often a speaker would describe how his device was being made (usually only experimentally) with one layer using flexo, one offset and one gravure or inkjet or screen print. Other printing technologies were also described for printed electronics. Electrophotography was demonstrated for printed electronics and screen printing will not be banished for a long time yet, though reel to reel for everything is coming in fast.
One could only say that gravure and flexo were most often cited but complexity is the order of the day. Dr Reinhard Baumann of MAN Roland described hybrid production machines that combine many of these options. Surely this complexity will not always be needed for a given device's manufacture. Hewlett Packard described how thermal inkjet is not confined to water based inks and it does not boil the ink or even necessarily heat it. Indeed, HP has thermally ink jet printed gasoline and, separately, DNA without damage. Electrophotography was demonstrated for printed electronics.
Paper electronics comes to the fore
One sea change is how many companies - though not the majority - are now demonstrating clever things printed on paper. This included the specially developed chipless RFID conference badge available on the ACREO stand. ACREO has flickering printed paper store displays, pixillated displays on paper and high resolution dry phase patterning on paper. T-ink has heating elements printed at high speed on paper. One use is reversibly to change the colour of thermochromic ink patterns thus giving displays.
Impressive Scandinavian development
ACREO was only one of the large number of speakers from Finland and Sweden reflecting the remarkable advances being made in Scandinavia - definitely a region to watch. For example VTT in Finland is progressing reel to reel production of OLED displays as is 3M in the USA - another speaker.
Read the second part of this three part article tomorrow.