The Future is Now: Photovoltaics

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.

In the Future Print Pavilion—part of PackPrint—attendees can learn about photovoltaics and discover the requirements of different industries. According to Malcolm G. Keif, Professor, Graphic Communication Department, Cal Poly State University (Booth 5150) and GRAPH EXPO speaker, photovoltaics (PVs) are solar cells. “Printed PVs are usually made on flexible substrates and are cheaper, but not as efficient or durable as a typical silicon solar cell panel installed in a home. RFID and photovoltaics are a subset of printed electronics.”

Most photovoltaics are produced through the silkscreen process or through flexography. “PV production is not for the faint of heart. In many cases, different printing processes are optimized for different functional layers of PVs. Therefore, those who are serious about producing solar cells are using hybrid press technologies—screen printing, gravure, flexo, etc.,” says Keif.

“There is a great deal of knowledge required to learn how to print this material,” adds Steven Schnoll, Managing Director, Schnoll Media Consulting and GRAPH EXPO speaker. “One needs highly skilled people with a knowledge of chemistry and physics.”

The production of photovoltaics is a high-precision manufacturing process, requiring specialized equipment, materials, and know-how. “Unless a commercial printer already has a significant volume of work to support such an operation, breakeven could be an even greater challenge,” says Terry Mitchell, Director of Marketing, Fujifilm (Booth 627).

“Producing and verifying a good quality ink film (uniformity and thickness) is critical. Understanding morphology and how to optimize surface structures (i.e. eliminate pin holes, uniform thickness) is very critical and requires a scientific approach to manufacturing. The drying of conductive materials is also critical,” says Keif. “For those who put in the efforts, the rewards could be substantial.”