The money spent on printed and potentially printed electronics doubled in 2007, as did the number of organisations participating. There are now about 1500 organisations doing significant work, most of them being academic. In 2008, there will be much more emphasis on commercialisation and many more countries will join the fray.
New breakthroughs for European conference
The leading European conference on printed electronics, the IDTechEx Printed Electronics Europe is part of the only global set of conferences on the subject in Japan, China, the USA and Europe. This year it moves from one centre of excellence Cambridge to another, Dresden in Germany. Once again, there will be many visits to best-in-class local facilities to bring the subject alive. The move to commercialisation will be reflected in many presentations, including Richard Kirk - who grew the printed electroluminescent display business elumin8 very rapidly by new applications - talking on how to make money out of printed electronics. Hasbro will describe the relevant needs of a leading toy manufacturer.
Many product launches
StoraEnso will cover packaging applications for interactivity, monitoring and information transfer. Samsung will talk about commercialising its new active matrix e-paper which employs a printed transistor array and Schreiner will describe its journey from electroluminescence to printed electronics. Flexible e-paper is a hot topic with Sensible Solutions demonstrating a version that talks to you and Polymer Vision describing commercialisation of its type of e-paper through Telecom Italia. Then there is the blisterpack laminate that records which pill you took when, thanks to Compliers Group. Another newcomer, Prelonic Technologies of Austria, has integrated paper batteries and displays that will be rapidly commercialised in basic form then improved. The focus described by Motorola will be printed electronics for wireless application and services whereas Konarka will show where organic photovoltaics are appearing and why.
Yes it can be printed
Only two years ago, many observers said that copper indium gallium diselenide CIGS solar cells would never be printed but the Nanosolar plant in Berlin for that purpose will be the largest of several across the world. Another "unprintable" form of photovoltaics, the dye sensitised solar cell DSSC, is now being printed in a UK factory. Like Nanosolar, it is employing a form of ink jet, a production technology pulling well ahead as the favoured method of making most forms of printed electronics. With reel to reel production or large sheet fed processes, both using flexible substrates, tolerance of shape change and low wastage of the very expensive ink are important and these are strengths of ink jet. Plastic Logic has much the same approach for its first factory, which is being built in Dresden, in this case for printed, flexible electrophoretic displays with printed backplane drivers. The huge Industrial Technology Research Institute in Taiwan is among the many moving the inkjet printing forward, an interesting aspect there being ink jet printing on fluidic displays. Newcomer Trident Industrial Inkjet is advancing digital fabrication using flexible inert piezo inkjet and Chisso Petrochemical Corporation in Japan is inkjetting flexible LCD displays. Together with these speakers, EPSON will also present on inkjet advances.
Room for many types of transistor
Transistors are the engine of this revolution. 2007 saw 340 developers of these devices with none selling anything but that was just the calm before the storm. With Kovio launching its printed silicon nanoparticle transistors in late 2008, Cubic Corporation is looking to use them in tickets to the world's favourite RFID specification - ISO 14443. By contrast, organic semiconductors only have one hundredth of the mobility, inhibiting work at the higher frequencies, and no one can yet match Kovio in printing thousands at a time but organic transistors can be made at very high speed on very low cost polymers using very little material and they are compatible with organic sensors, displays and so on. Improvements are rapid at Sony, Poly IC and elsewhere. Indeed CimaNanotech of Israel also has a breakthrough to announce. The University of Applied Sciences of Southern Switzerland will give an overview of thin film work in that country.
The major Western companies become more ambitious
For every giant Western company involved in printed electronics there are five ones involved in East Asia. It is the ones that should be making devices that are asleep on the whole, not the materials suppliers like BASF, where they are easily a match for eastern competition. BASF is even backing Heliatek making organic solar cells. Exceptions on the device side are GE of America, with its joint venture with Konica to make OLED lighting and its many other printed electronics activities that will be announced at the conference. Philips also works on many levels in this field, and it will present on latest advances at the conference. Organic Light Emitting Diodes remain very important and MicroEmissive Displays will describe how they are selling them while the Holst Centre in the Netherlands, Novaled, IAPP and SimTec in Germany and the pan European OLLA project will be among those announcing breakthroughs in OLED materials, device physics and production technology.
Other forms of printing, other materials needed
Inkjet will not conquer all. PolyIC does not use it and the Welsh Centre for Printing and Coating will describe how it makes devices using flexography. However, the materials used in printed electronics are sometimes scarce and subject to price hikes so we shall hear from the University of Augsberg on their research on these impending problems.
To learn more see www.IDTechEx.com/peEUROPE, held on April 8-9 in Dresden, Germany. This is Europe's largest event on the topic with over 600 delegates anticipated, 50 exhibitors, tours, masterclasses and an investment summit.