The Future is Now: Printed Electronics

The “future” is now. With electronics being manufactured in a variety of printing processes, now is the time to learn about emerging technologies that offer new opportunities for print producers and equipment manufacturers alike. Printed electronics products offer many new possibilities because they can be flexible, stretchable, low cost enough to be disposable, improve existing electronics such as displays, be integrated with fabrics, are more environmental, and improve safety. For the first time, cheap electronic features enhance products such as packaging, blister packs, billboards, and clothing. Over 3,000 global organizations are developing the technology and new products have emerged.

“Printed electronics offers a growth opportunity for printers. It is a way to increase revenue while leveraging existing equipment and knowledge,” says Malcolm G. Keif, professor, Graphic Communication Department, Cal Poly State University (Booth 5150). “Printers already have substantial knowledge and infrastructure for taking what they know about graphic printing and applying it to functional printing. But, it does require additional sophistication, as appearance takes a back seat to function.”

“The lower cost of producing printed electronics over traditional electronic manufacturing will lead to a greater expansion in applications and demand,” says Terry Mitchell, director of marketing, Fujifilm North America, Graphic Systems Division (Booth 627). “Commercial printers who successfully implement printed electronics may find themselves in an under-served niche.”


Starting points

Business owners looking to expand into this “under-served” niche, need to understand the technology, the precision, and accuracy printed electronic applications demand. Knowledge of ink adhesion, substrates, and ink performance over time is critical to assess each potential application and market.

“The key to printing electronics is the ability to print well controlled ink films using sometimes difficult ink rheologies. The surface structure (morphology) is very critical in printed electronics so having a method to measure (metrology) and control film thickness and uniformity is vital. Both thick ink films and thin ink films are needed for printed electronics and therefore various printing processes may play a big role in this market. Presently, screen printing is used the most for printed electronics. However, other printing methods will likely be used more with further development,” says Keif. “A second challenge is the drying and heat-treating of conductive materials. In many cases long drying times at high temperatures are needed. This creates a challenge with much of the existing drying capabilities of typical presses.”


Printed electronics in media and advertising

Printed electronics is also being integrated into Media and Advertising. Large area interactive posters with NFC technologies integrated are already a reality as are ACEL advertising campaigns—on products themselves as well as billboards, outdoor advertisements, or POS posters. The development of new technologies is bringing a new dimension into the advertising and media world, allowing end-users to implement technological advances into their efforts to increase sales, market innovatively and effectively against the competition, and give competitive advantages to products.

“QR, TAG (a Microsoft product that can be done in color and customized to a higher degree than QR), pURLS, and AR connect the world of print with other digital mediums. The trick is not just putting a code on a printed piece but to create the landing pages and track all the data. That is where the financial rewards lie,” says Steven Schnoll, managing director, Schnoll Media Consulting.

“QR codes, pURLS, and augmented reality offer PSPs a wide variety of cross-media marketing solutions to reach customers more effectively,” says Mitchell. “It’s important for any service provider to target their message and make it as personal as possible. QR codes, pURLS, and augmented reality, when used effectively, can capture interest and provide for an interactive and personal experience. The integration of print with these elements will be an important component of future print success.”