The pace is accelerating as the printed electronics market wings its way to being a $300 billion business in twenty years from now. It is far more important than the silicon chip because it embraces lighting and other forms of electrical and combined electrical-electronic device, not just electronics. Things thought impossible only two years ago such as the printed RFID circuit working at the newly favourite frequency of UHF are now being planned for mass production. That increase in frequency capability makes us realise that the disposable cellphone and much more besides will be possible after all. The Cinderella technology starts to get clever and that includes a whole range of sophisticated printed sensors, batteries and other power sources, photodiodes - the list goes on and on.
At the conference "Printed Electronics USA" in Phoenix the remarkable versatility of Organic Light Emitting Diodes OLEDs will be seen to progress to wearable and scrollable displays thanks to the Air Force Research Laboratory, the Army Research Laboratory and Arizona State University. The Industrial Technology Research Institute of Taiwan will explain how it is commercialising flexible LCDs with thin film drive circuits. Pelikon of the UK will cover low cost printed AC electroluminescent displays newly being pitched into the consumer market. Another consumer product is the Sony electronic book based on electrophoretic displays described by the printer responsible - Toppan Forms in Japan, because this will once again be a truly international conference. Indeed, Power Paper of Israel announces new commercial success with drug and cosmetic delivery using its electrical "iontophoretic" patches with integral, disposable batteries. Manchester University of the UK will be one to cover those potentially UHF RFID constructions. Dimatix and others will lead us through the exciting improvements in printing equipment for the disposable electrics and electronics of tomorrow and there is a report from Nanoident of Austria, Motorola in the USA and many others all looking at the full picture not just the organic part, for many devices now incorporate both inorganic and organic layers and patterns. Nowadays the focus is on what you can sell and what can benefit society not the field of chemistry involved. The blinkers have been discarded.
Inorganic, organic and combined solutions will be employed but organics seems to have the most potential in displays and lighting at present, though printed logic and power could go either way. In 2025, the printed devices that rely mainly on organics may represent 65% of the printed electronic market by value but time will tell. By then, the USA and China may be the main users of printed electronics, possibly with China in the ascendant as it uses the technologies to make enormous numbers of products both to export and to use internally.
Printed electronics will be huge. It will create many new markets, particularly for disposable products in healthcare, consumer goods etc. It will replace conventional printing in some billboards, posters, signage, packaging and labels with more lucid and compelling human interfaces such as moving colour and sound in disposable products such as medicine packages and blood testers. It will replace a lot of conventional lighting. It will replace silicon chips in low priced applications and its environmental credentials will be superior.
Printed Electronics USA 2006 will take place at the Ritz Carlton Hotel, Phoenix on the 5th/6th December 2006. Masterclasses and a tour will be held at the Flexible Displays Unit of Arizona State University on 4th and 7th December. For further details please see www.printelec.com .