Nowadays, the term printed electronics is taken to include truly printed electronics but also thin film electronics that is potentially printable. Anything less and you miss the big picture. We include low cost electrical and electronic circuits with layers below 30 microns thick, even if currently deposited by vacuum techniques, spin coating, etc. Silicon chips and thin film silicon are not included because they are not potentially printable. However, the main emphasis is on circuits, interconnects and components already made with printing equipment, at least in part.
Smart Media Products
Most of the potential for printed electronics lies in what Toppan Forms calls Smart Media Products (SMP) which will often be intelligent and mass producible yet often customisable as well. They will usually be used at the human interface or connected to networks and embeddable ubiquitously into the environment. All this means that printed electronics will largely create new markets. An example could be tape around pipelines to detect leaks and impending leaks and signal that there is a problem. The need is certainly there given ongoing discovery of leaks in chemical facilities and even the Trans Alaska Pipeline. Printed electronics will commonly take the form of tape, "wallpaper", posters, patches and packaging rather than electronic equipment. Electronically savvy companies making patches, tape or packaging such as 3M and Toppan Printing will be more comfortable with this world than the big computer and telecommunications systems and service businesses or even the silicon chip makers.
In the early stages of this industry, technologists have reported that life, performance and cost are variously delaying progress. However, lack of imagination is also holding things up. The most important challenges vary between the different types of component being developed and some are summarised below. They include Thin Film Transistor Circuits TFTCs combined with antennas to form RFID labels and the various forms of thin film photovoltaics PV, being launched in 2007/8.
Main impediments to marketing of certain types of printed electronic component in 2007.
Nonetheless, as most printed electronic technologies eventually approach maturity, it looks as if the shortage of technically savvy, imaginative product design and marketing will make many of them sell well below their market potential. There is a desperate shortage of companies like T-ink which has applied today's printed technology to invent interactive tablecloths for Hallmark Inc, interactive table mats for McDonald's, pillow radios for Toys 'R' Us, interactive board games, self-heating apparel, weight reduction and space saving in cars and secret equipment used by military forces. Most participants do not think further than marginal improvements to existing electronic products such as the displays on mobile phones.