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Business Applications for Printed Electronics

March 4, 2009
By Peter Harrop, Chairman, IDTechEx

Recently, the commercialization of printed electronics has progressed from conductive patterns to batteries, displays, sensors, resistors, solar cells, lighting and transistor circuits, increasingly in combination. Power Paper is making 12 million skin patches yearly that electrically deliver cosmetics through the skin. They consist of a printed battery and electrodes. Many are sold under the Estee Lauder brand. Membrane keyboards for personal electronics have long been made in the hundreds of millions using printed silver as have the RFID antennas of Checkpoint Systems and others. Fully printed electronics has appeared in the billions of battery testers made by Avery Dennison and sold on Duracell batteries. They employ printed resistors and conductors.

More recently, printed electrophoretic displays have sold in the form of e-books and they were also used a few months ago in the 75th anniversary edition of Esquire magazine but these applications involve conventional components as well. Now Plastic Logic has demonstrated such displays in e-books where even the transistor drive circuits are printed.

Eight companies print ac electroluminescent displays and lighting on flexible plastic film, some being several meters across. Kovio has trialled printed transistor circuits in train tickets. G24 innovations has recently made first deliveries from its UK reel to reel production of so-called Dye Sensitised Solar Cells and Nanosolar is building a factory in Berlin to print a different type of photovoltaics called CIGS. Promotional inserts made by Toppan Printing in Japan have partly printed electronics - they record and play back yet they are paper thin.

Most of these devices employ inorganic electronic inks but some use organic ones; so many leading chemical companies are involved. Because this is a potential market of hundreds of millions of dollars, major electronics, printing and packaging companies are preparing the devices. For example, GE is launching reel to reel printed lighting next year in a joint venture with Konica Minolta.

Clearly things are now very much on the move. Indeed, in 2009, several leading consumer goods companies have set up multidisciplinary teams to explore how these new technologies can enhance brands in many ways. Packaging and promotional material that employs such moving images, sound, electronic enclosures as rewards and so on will make today's versions look very tired indeed. Consequently, venture capital continues to be available for this sector despite the recession with companies such as Somark Innovations (printed RFID), PolyPhotonix, Polymertronics and Novaled (all organic light emitting diode displays (OLEDs)) all raising multi-million dollar sums this year.

Printed Electronics Europe

The largest conference on printed and potentially printed electronics, called "Printed Electronics Europe" is in Dresden, Germany on April 7-8th. Following record attendance of nearly 700 delegates and well over 50 exhibitors at its equivalent event in Silicon Valley in December 2008, this IDTechEx conference covers all the above topics and more. See how new printed flexible transistor circuits, sensors, displays, lighting and other forms are being commercialised now and in the very near future. The IDTechEx conference, "Photovoltaics Beyond Conventional Silicon" takes place at the same time and place. This conference maps the launch of many forms of flexible solar cell designed for replacing everything from power stations to batteries, but also making totally new things possible in e-packaging, skin patches delivering drugs and mobile phones and laptops that will never have flat batteries.

Sessions on Healthcare and Bionic Man, Smart Substrates and Stretchable Electronics for Clothing illustrate the new paradigm. Indeed, Markus Klann will speak on "Printed Electronics - weird stuff: how people migt come to use, hate, break or love it." Other talks cover imminent use in games, books, billboards, apparel, medical disposables, transport, consumer goods and more; everyone interested in these sectors should attend to see their future. Attendees will even see several ways in which these magic films can be made invisible, whether they produce power, process data, display, sense or, when needed, display moving colour images or illuminate.

For more details about the IDTechEx event, see www.IDTechEx.com/peEUROPE. Register early and benefit from online networking.
 

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