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Printed Electronics World
Posted on April 9, 2014 by  & 

Highlights from the Printed Electronics Europe event in Berlin

The 11th annual IDTechEx Printed Electronics event took place in Berlin last week. The conference and tradeshow looked at a diverse range of technologies - both within printed electronics and also related technologies, such as Graphene, Wearable Technology, the Internet of Things, Energy Harvesting and 3D Printing, reflecting the broad opportunities for the technology.
The event which focuses on the commercialisation of printed electronics, featured end users across multiple verticals presenting and attending to meet with leading suppliers.
Attendee numbers grew by over 20% from 2013 and 168 speakers from across the value chain, from small to large organisations helped attendees dissect the latest technology and commercial opportunities. Here are some of the highlights.

Wearable Technology

Clothing+ is a Finnish company specialised in the integration of sensors in textile. They made around €9m of sales last year. They use conductive fibers to create electrodes that are integrated in garments and are also looking at alternative, such as direct printing on fabric. Commenting on the convergence of technologies, Clothing+ CEO Akseli Reho said:
"It was inspiring how two emerging topics, wearable technology and printed electronics, were covered in this relevant event."
The conference highlighted some of the remaining issues for e-textiles. For example, coin-cell batteries can be problematic because they are difficult to integrate and incompatible with machine washing. Printed thin film batteries are an interesting alternative because they are flexible, non hazardous and easily disposable.

Organic backplanes for OLED displays

Plastic Logic demonstrated a monochrome flexible OLED display during the exhibition. The backplane was made with organic TFT and the frontplane used Novaled's PIN structure. Semiconductor mobility is still around the same as amorphous silicon but the company says that next generation semiconductors will likely be around 5 cm2/V/s. Plastic Logic believes that the mechanical flexibility of the new display makes it ideal for the new generation of wearable devices.

Transparent conductive films

ClearJet is commercialising a novel technology for making transparent conductive films. They inkjet printed a specially-formulated silver nanoparticle ink. The ink diffuses into a ring shape due to the so-called 'coffee stain' effect. Overlapping rings create a percolation path without covering the entire surface, thereby forming a transparent conductive film. A key advantage of this technology is that no additional patterning is required; therefore it simplifies the manufacturing process. At the same time, the design of ring patterns can be customised to match the display design and minimise Moire patterns. This is difficult to achieve using standard metal mesh unless a randomised structure is used.
Cambrios is also fast making progress. Cambrios now has a joint venture with TPK and Nissha Printing. Cambrios claims that the joint venture is putting production capacity in place to service 2 million large-sized mobile units per month. Cambrios also has set up a collaboration with 3M to make transparent conducting film. Interestingly, 3M has hedged its bets by focusing on both metal mesh and silver nanowires. Cambrios also claims that a major trend in the industry is towards narrow or single-sided bezel design. This can be enabled with 50 ohm/sqr transparent conducting sheets. In general, Cambrios is making strong progress and its products are already out on the market.
O-Film has also acquired the technology developed by NanoGrid at the Chinese Printable Electronics Research Centre. This is a metal mesh technology that utilises embossing and silver nanoparticles. A key differentiator is that the nanoparticle tracks are embedded within the substrates, meaning that the substrate will have a smooth finish. O-Film claims that it is ready to roll-to-roll manufacture 1.5 million tablet-sized panels per month already.

Graphene vs other carbon forms in supercapacitors

IDTechEx is following closely the development of new materials for supercapacitors, including carbon nanomaterials such as graphene and carbon nanotubes. In this area, Spain's National Institute of Carbon provided an overview of characteristics and current achieved performance from different forms of carbons used in supercapacitor electrodes, including activated carbons, carbon gels, carbide derived carbons, carbon nanotubes and graphene. As part of the FP7 project Electrograph, this presentation compared the performance of graphene based supercaps with those based on other forms of carbon such as activated carbon. The relevant point was that whilst graphene has achieved a good performance, it does not yet offer a dramatic increase over the current solution which is activated carbon.
Whilst graphene promises considerable higher performances most of the graphene materials obtained at large scale are not pristine single-layer graphene, but contain chemical and structural imperfections. Activated carbon will remain the preferred choice unless graphene can demonstrate a substantial performance improvement or cost reduction. This is despite graphene appearing work better with aqueous electrolytes.

3D printing

Recent advances in 3D printing were presented at the IDTechEx 3D Printing Live! conference in Berlin 2nd-3rd April, including the latest news on multi-material printing from 3D printer giant Stratasys Ltd who are now able to incorporate both flexible and rigid materials in a single print. Exciting developments on the high performance thermoplastic front were also demonstrated by Windform, whose materials will be used to manufacture parts of an all-electric racing motorbike for actual release as a product during 2015. The company, part of CRP Group, now offer both glass fibre, and carbon fibre reinforced polyamide-based materials for selective laser sintering.
Interest in the work of the 3D Labor laboratory at the Technical University of Berlin was high and a number of case studies the lab has been involved in were presented, including restoration of a bust of an Egyptian Pharaoh to the condition in which it was originally discovered for a Berlin museum, a scale model of the Moon derived directly from NASA data proved popular, as well as research into the tissue engineering of human heart valves.
Issues surrounding the use of extremely large datasets were also discussed by the lab, who have developed both software and hardware to efficiently utilise and manipulate data from a number of scanning-type sources including MRI/CT scans.
IBM, in its recent detailed study of manufacturing supply chains showed that 3D printing is not necessarily a green technology and that in fact, local manufacturing with 3D printing can, in some cases, be worse than traditional and centralised manufacturing methods. Applications should be carefully analysed if claims to reduce environmental pollution are to be upheld.
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