Printed electronics has reached its tipping point as evidenced by the world's largest event on the topic, Printed Electronics USA, now taking place in Santa Clara California, staged by the leading analysts on the subject, IDTechEx. The attendance at the Masterclasses, the conference and the exhibition is sharply up on last year. More large companies are in attendance including many potential end users from consumer goods to aerospace and there are many new start-ups. Indeed, the variety of actual and potential applications is much greater this year and the enlarged exhibition is even more international and comprehensive in capabilities and materials revealed.
Keynotes to End User Forum and Graphene LIVE
The keynote speeches were truly inspiring with Raghu Das of IDTechEx giving a close analysis of market sizes, winners and losers and reasons why. Professor Takao Someya of the University of Tokyo addressed emerging applications of printed skin-like sensors and organic photovoltaics with an amazing variety of examples of potential applications. He placed all this in the context of computing becoming embedded into everyday things. His tightly rollable and crushable organic devices are unusually thin, some can even be rolled around a human hair. They could lead to such things as the mobile phone that unwinds a large display and keyboard and other radically improved human interfaces and ways of providing large photovoltaic area in a small device.
Dr Slade Culp of United Technologies Research Center described how printed electronics is now regarded as a key enabling technology for most of their products from aerospace to elevators and building management. UTRC has spent only a modest amount on printed electronics in 2012 but will ramp up sharply in 2013, something heard from other potential users at the show, many of which, like UTC, are both developers and buyers of this technology now.
Dr Ivan Poupyrev of Walt Disney Corporation mesmerized the audience with very innovative new human interfaces and functionalities, including how to make a growing plant into an electronic musical instrument. The end user forum then commenced (Boeing, MeadWestvaco, Procter & Gamble and the European beverages giant Diageo), in parallel with Graphene LIVE - a popular new two day session.
The four parallel sessions in the afternoon were well attended, with particular interest in consumer applications, an example being the contactless, shelf-powered "product glorifiers" of Leggett & Platt, a company that pleaded for power standards beyond the WPC Qi (pronounced Chi) inductive standard.
One company, many verticals served
T-Ink described how its origins in Toys and Novelties have led to many things including a skunk works apartment donated by a very large developer, where T-Ink will eliminate all wires despite adding many sensors. Another new front is reducing weight and cost in vehicles and releasing space and improving reliability using printed electronics. Partnerships are common for T-Ink, each for a different key vertical. Military is a key vertical. In Construction, their printed systems permit lighting to be moved without an electrician.
In Automotive, the Ford Fusion now has T-ink "plywood electronics" replacing the overhead instrument cluster. Screen, offset, gravure, pad, flexo, rotary, spray and other technologies are employed, but mainly only with carbon and silver and a lot of imagination. Volume production is always farmed out. The multiple printing technologies accord with a general view at the event that there is no one winner in printing technology and there never will be. Indeed, single companies using multiple printing technologies and serving many key verticals as appropriate are increasingly encountered. The Marketing Store and others pointed to "the proliferation of touch screen devices", increasingly printed.
Attendees to the trade show will all receive a sample of Origami Electronics. The sample consists of printed circuits on traditional paper, which only become functional when the device is correctly folded - the design of the folded paper is part of enabling the functionality of the circuit. The innovative design utilizes conductive silver ink, printed batteries and traditional LEDs to create an interactive user experience in the form of an origami sail boat. The circuit will illuminate the boat's mast light and logo, and highlights the technology's growing use in the area of interactive packaging and printed media.