Printed electronics is a term that covers printed and potentially printed electronics and electrics. It is the basis of an emerging $300 billion business embracing transistors, memory, displays, solar cells, batteries, sensors, lasers and much more. This new electronics will appear as adhesive tape, wallpaper, billboards, labels, skin patches, smart packaging and books because it will be foldable, conformal, wide area, ultra low cost, edible, rollable, transparent and biodegradable as needed. Yes - there are transparent transistors, batteries, solar cells and more on the way and Kodak has recently patented edible RFID on medicine. And it will be pivotal to the future of mobile phones.
Thanks to printed electronics, mobile phones will have large snap back keyboards, chargers and colour video displays and some of the displays will work well in sunlight. The rest of the world will copy the 40 million Japanese currently using phones to get onto transport and buy things in shops and at smart posters and one billion RFID enabled phones will eventually be sold every year. Miniaturising and cost reducing those phones and the smart posters, terminals for tourists and other items the phones will interrogate will be down to printed electronics. Indeed, a terminal will be reduced to being a label, shelf edge display or poster so it costs far less and does not get in the way. Then there is home medicine.
For example, referring to the world's largest conference on the subject -Printed Electronics USA - Jos Geboers of The Compliers Group in the Netherlands says, "My presentation will be all about new developments in printed electronics and more specific the use of these new technologies for patients using medicines or drugs. People have a better life if they take the medicines subscribed by the physician at the desired time, not before, not later, not to forget, just in time. More than 300,000 people die in Europe and US every year from taking medicines incorrectly, and it has been proven that printed electronics - used on existing medicine blister packages - can play a big role to reduce this number. No apparatus or other stigmatizing and complicated devices but only existing medicine packages, including invisible intelligence, and we can make it simple to use these additional features with the mobile telephone, our personal terminal.
My presentation is also an invitation to all techno companies who may like to join The Compliers Association which has the mission to develop such low cost intelligent medication packages, for a better adherence to correct taking of medication and therefore a better quality of life for millions of patients."
Mobile phones will interrogate printed smart medicine packs and disgnostics, letting the physician monitor treatment in the home and on the move.
According to Andy Hannah, CEO of Plextronics and a speaker at the San Francisco event, printed electronics is shaping the way that renewable energy is captured and utilized. "As I'll discuss in my presentation, the development of organic solar cell technology has made tremendous progress even since we entered this market just two years ago. We expect that our customers will use this technology in applications such as OPV chargers for cell phones and laptops. We've seen the efficiency of these cells progress very quickly both in our labs and in the industry as a whole. It's an exciting time to be a printed electronics company."
There are plenty of startups in this subject as well. For example, speaker Vishal Shrotriya is from Solarmer Energy. This is a company based in El Monte in Southern California, around 10 miles east of downtown LA. Solarmer was founded through private equity funding in 2006, and obtained exclusive licenses on key patents from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) as its seed IP. Solarmer is developing translucent, flexible and low-cost plastic solar cells which are versatile and aesthetically pleasing. He says, "Our novel technology uses conjugated organic polymers as the active material, and as a result, our plastic solar cells have the potential to be light-weight and easy to manufacture on a large-scale at a much lower cost than traditional silicon and other thin-film PV cells. Solarmer has established a state of the art research and development center and its corporate office in El Monte. We are currently recruiting engineers, scientists and managers to build a world class R&D and management teams."
He elaborates, "Our core strength lies in innovations in device engineering and product development. We are committed to commercialization of plastic solar cell technology by developing products based on our high performance solar cells and have targeted the third quarter of 2009 for prototypes to be ready. Some of the challenges for the plastic solar cell technology are the low efficiency compared to silicon solar cells (currently in the range of 5%) and shorter lifetimes. We intend to focus on these aspects during the course of next two years through aggressive in-house R&D and through strategic collaboration with industry leaders who share our vision. We are also collaborating with some of the top academic and research institutions, including California NanoSystems Institute (CNSI) at UCLA. Our mission is to not only bring the plastic solar cell technology to market but also provide affordable solar photovoltaic systems to two billion people in the world who cannot afford to have electricity."
The conference will also cover how ubiquitous printed RFID labels will replace trillions of barcodes yearly thanks to printed electronics. Indeed, they will increasingly be printed directly onto things like 85% of barcodes today. That means that RFID enabled mobile phones, to the global Near Field Communication standards, will rapidly become the preferred way of buying products and services wherever they are. No one in the mobile phone industry should ignore how printed electronics will completely change their industry.