The printed electronics market is expected to have a 58 percent CAGR growth between 2010 and 2016. To realize that kind of growth, says Yole Développement, in its report “Printed Electronics: Hype vs. Reality,” the industry needs to be able to deliver prototypes that can be manufactured, also...
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“We see a lot more possibilities for printed electronics in this area, although some more functions and performance still needs to be developed,” says Mildner. “ Silicon electronics is progressing and developing fast and has of course advantages, but roll-to roll printed electronics will provide efficient und sufficient solutions in the future.”
Technical Barriers Remain
One of the issues with printed electronics is that in some areas the technology is too early stage or has critical technical barriers—even where it has been demonstrated, there is no commercially viable path to move it into production, notes Scott White, CEO of PragmatIC Printing in Cambridge, UK.
In 2010, PragmatIC acquired the printed electronics business of Nano ePrint Ltd, including its patented technology for planar nano-electronic devices that can be manufactured in a single semiconductor layer via single-step imprint patterning. PragmatIC has extended this imprinting process to allow a full range of device and circuit architectures to be printed in transparent, flexible semiconductors at micron and sub- micron scale.
PragmatIC’s printed logic circuits can be integrated on plastic, paper, card or metal surfaces, which may be curved or flexible. It can be partially transparent, or integrated into the artwork of the product, and is ultra thin so it does not stand out.
While PragmatIC has received commercial orders, its current revenues are generated primarily from licensing its core technology for imprinted electronic logic, and from prototyping integrated product solutions that combine its logic with other printed (or conventional) electronics. Most of the prototyping projects are for large multinational consumer brands. PragmatIC is also establishing its own pilot production line, which will extend these projects to low volume commercial production (approx 10k - 1M units). “We expect this line to be fully operational by the end of this year,” says White.
Reception in the marketplace has been incredibly positive, says White. “The general reaction is that we have the key missing piece for complete printed electronics solutions, namely thin, flexible logic that enables interactivity and intelligence,” he says. “However education of potential customers is definitely required - particularly about the feasible roadmap for increasingly complex printed electronics solutions. It is not so much that they need to be educated regarding the possibilities, but rather regarding the technical realities that constraint what can be achieved in the near.”
White argues that some companies seem intent on continuing to improve the technology, pursuing some perceived ideal, rather than actually getting out and talking to customers about what they can do with it now.
“Printed logic is one area that suffers this in particular, since many of the claimed results use techniques that are too sensitive to process variability and/or require significant improvements in equipment to be achieved reliably,” says White. “This is one reason why we are so positive about our approach, since it uses unmodified off-the-shelf equipment and can very quickly scale to high volumes and ultra low cost with relatively low capital investment.”
In the United States, Kovio, a privately-held company based in Silicon Valley with origins in MIT’s Medial Lab, announced that its RFID Barcode wireless tag technology will be used with NFC solutions from INSIDE Secure, a leader in semiconductor solutions for secure transactions and digital identity.
Kovio has developed high-performance “electronic” silicon, dopant, metal, and insulator inks that combine with conventional printing technologies to print RF Barcode tags on thin, flexible substrates. Kovio is leveraging its platform to develop low-cost RF Barcodes, such as those used in NFC markets.
Moving forward, INSIDE and Kovio are looking to deploy a solution that will allow retailers and brands to interact with consumers and the point of sale in the areas of mobile marketing and advertising, brand authentication, retail operations, and ticketing.