The need for companies to work together towards solutions was highlighted by Joachim Steinke of Imperial College London who explained that synergy was required to fully exploit the new technologies - with experts from various disciplines working together to make these new things possible.
The Prize goes to those who venture
The conference opened with a talk by the chair, Stuart Evans of Plastic Logic, who spoke about the various terms being used to describe these emerging technologies - including 'Polymer Electronics' 'Organic Electronics' 'Printed / Disposable Electronics'. He predicted that the industry would be valued at $2bn by the end of this decade, increasing to $10bn by 2015.
He mentioned that STMicroelectronics have a department called "Post-silicon technologies", highlighting the ground-breaking nature of present developments, and how this may change our world in future.
He said that there is considerable investment in the industry and that the prize, ultimately, would go to those who venture and break new ground.
Opening new markets for the Printing Industry
Dr Bruce Kahn of the Rochester Institute of Technology explained that, as the printing industry has been in decline since 2000, there is a lot of interest in discovering and developing new markets. The advent of printed electronics provides an ideal opportunity for printing companies to utilise their capacity to produce printed electronics.
Dr Kahn outlined the various printing methods that are being developed, and cited examples such as Offset Litho (MAN Roland), Flexo/Letterpress (RIT) Pad (PolyIC), Screenprinting (Power Paper) and Inkjet printing (Plastic Logic, Xaar, Xennia, Kodak). He mentioned also that work was being done on a printed chemical vapour sensor; and a new 'Micropen', which can be 'filled' with ink from any viscosity from water to tar.
Tommi Remonen of ACREO (Sweden) demonstrated printed RFID antennas on a flexible roll. Metal foils can be used to provide heaters, antennas, conductors electrodes and solar cells. Standard paper stock is used, this is pre-coated. The aim is to reduce costs below that of silicon based components.
Chris Rider of Kodak presented "Displays on a roll" and explained the work in progress in this area at Kodak at present, and their vision for efficient, low-cost manufacturing of displays on plastic. As Joachim Steinke had highlighted earlier, Chris Rider confirmed that a portfolio of different technologies were required in display assembly.
US Army Drives Commercialisation
Greg Raupp, Director of the Flexible Display Center at Arizona State University explained that the US Army is backing the drive to commercialise display technology - not purely for military applications, but to benefit the global commercialisation of these products. Some of the Flexible Display Center's missions are: to develop and supply integrated full-color flexible displays prototypes and demonstrators to the Army; to leverage and expand the portfolio of display technologies and to provide and support Large Area Process and Tool development and Process Integration in a 'Design for Manufacturing' paradigm.
An interesting talk by Sharon Baurley, Research Fellow at Central St Martins College of Art & Design focussed on smart textiles and wearable electronics - not only for novelty and fashion, but also adding new functionality to clothing, benefiting the wearer. Examples include the "Wellbeing Robe" developed by Philips Wearables Research - an electrical current running through this garment generates a gentle pummelling sensation. Softswitch, a UK based company, has incorporated electronics incorporated into outdoorwear, described as 'textiles with touch intelligence'. An Adidas running shoe has in-built sensors which sense the required cushioning level - a motor-driven cable system corrects the cushioning.
End of Life
A question arose as to the environmental issues surrounding the ultimate disposal of printed electronics at the end of the product life-cycle. The feeling was that these issues are important, and that the organic nature of the materials was a key factor. Ultimately, the consumer would identify their requirements, with environmentally-friendly technologies being one of the factors they would take into account.