Within the printing industry, “PE” was known in proofreader circles as the acronym for a “printer’s error”. In this second decade of the 21st century, however, PE has developed new meaning, as in printed electronics. It is the next big thing, say industry watchers, with the global market expected to reach $24 billion by 2015. PE is growing at such a thundering pace, in part, because of its numerous benefits over conventional electronics—lower costs and simplified fabrication, to name just two.
For print professionals seeking to expand their service offerings into this exciting new profit center, they first need to learn more about what PE is and how they can participate in it. At The Experiential Lab (Booth 3457) in the Future Print Pavilion, GRAPH EXPO visitors can discover the many, and growing, applications ranging from RFID to displays and lighting to sensors and batteries. Demonstrations and presentations at this year’s show, are courtesy of Flex-Tech Alliance.
Organic printing, PE’s cousin, features semiconductors such as photoluminescent polymers and small molecules, liquid crystals, triplet emitters, and other light-emitting polymers. Compared to inorganic, silicon-based materials, organic materials are flexible, relatively cost-effective, and easy to manufacture. They are used in high-performance devices like organic photovoltaic (OPV) and OLED displays as well as organic thin-film transistors (OTFT). Organic materials also are used as components of conductive inks, so devices can be efficiently fabricated using inkjet printing technology. This spring, Agfa Specialty Products (Booth 627) introduced a new portfolio of Orgacon products enabling cost-efficient manufacturing of solution processed OPVs on flexible substrates. These formulations are designed for roll-to-roll processing on polymer substrates by slot die coating, inkjet, or screen printing.
At Novalia, a Cambridge, UK, printing firm, electrical circuits made by printed ink are helping to create a new generation of “intelligent” greeting cards, books, and other interactive paper-based products. The company specializes in designing electronic circuits and controls that are printed onto paper and cardboard using conductive ink through conventional litho and flexo presses, which are attached to relatively inexpensive chips and output devices. Applications have ranged from a tissue box that has a piano built in (to amuse children on long journeys) to pill packaging that remembers when you took the last pill and stores that information to pass back to drug companies for efficacy testing.
Here’s how it works: A graphic designer first creates an ordinary image; let’s say a birthday cake with candles. Then an electronics engineer uses graphics software to superimpose a circuit on the image, following the lines of the original design. When this isn’t possible, the engineer makes small changes to the original image.
“It’s almost the opposite way you’d normally design a circuit,” explained Managing Director Kate Stone, who has a Ph.D. in physics. Touch-sensitive input and light/sound output is coupled with transistor-based intelligence. Novalia offers design, product development and creation services, and works with its partners to coordinate manufacture.
3D Print to Revitalize “Rust Belt”
Additive manufacturing, also known as 3D printing, is another “hot” area that attendees can see in action at GRAPH EXPO this week. 3D printing makes products by taking digital data and using it to build up an item, layer by layer, from a material. Similar to a desktop printer that puts 2D digital files on a piece of paper, a 3D printer creates components by depositing thin layers of material, one after another, using a digital blueprint until the exact component required has been created. This process differs from the more traditional “subtractive” manufacturing that takes a material, such as a piece of metal and, through machining, shaves away the material until a final shape is reached.