Business Applications for Printed Electronics

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.

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