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Printed Electronics Becoming More Relevant to Our Market Segments

February 17, 2012
Printed Electronics is on the verge of becoming a relevant technology for several of our market segments. Organic LEDs, flexible displays, RFID tags, printed discrete devices, as well as printed photovoltaic devices, are making an impact in consumer, commercial and specialty electronics markets.

One of the most important benefits of this emerging field is the use of printing technologies for low-cost volume fabrication of electronic products. In addition, the ability to print on flexible substrates allows for placement of electronics on curved surfaces, for example, placing solar modules on vehicle roofs. Conventional semiconductors justify their much higher costs by providing much higher performance. Conversely, printed electronics is being promoted as a lower-cost technology that provides greater product design freedom.

NPES is working with Dan Gamota, Printovate Technologies, Inc., and IPC the Association Connecting Electronics Industries, to develop and shape the emerging field of printed electronics. According to IDTechEx, a provider of market research in printed electronics, RFID, thin film photovoltaics and smart packaging, the global market for printed electronics this year is $2.2 billion. By 2021 it is predicted that the market will be worth $44.25 billion, with 56% of products printed and 43% on flexible substrates.

In December 2011, NPES President Ralph Nappi attended the Printed Electronics & Photovoltaics USA 2011 trade show in Santa Clara, CA. The following are just a few examples of working technology, some of which are printed and flexible, that were showcased there:

• Rollable E-paper Display
The most prominent commercial success has clearly been e-paper, which has been in use for e-readers such as the Amazon Kindle and B&N Nook. That market has tripled every year since 2006 and now accounts for $180 million in sales. IDTechEx forecasts that worldwide e-reader sales will top $2.1 billion by 2017.

PolymerVision showcased their truly rollable display capable of showing animated images. This is good news for printed electronics since flexible displays could provide a platform for a plethora of printed components, enabling large new markets.

• Replacement for Touchscreens
A resistive touchscreen panel made with Kodak transparent conductive film and featuring completely invisible conductive patterns was demonstrated for the first time at PEUSA 2011. It was built using conventional printing processes, including UV-cured and heat-processed inks. A variety of films and formulations have been used to create a touchscreen that provides superior performance, flexibility, stability, transparency, neutral color, and low haze at an economical price. New technologies such as this are expected to capture up to 20 percent of the touchscreen market.

• Screen-Printed Silver Conductor Ink
Functional inks were showcased that are compatible with many substrate surfaces including polyester, glass and ceramic. Ink technologies are available that are suitable for screen print, ink jet, flexo, gravure, photo-imaging, pad printing, and other processing techniques.

• New Conductive Materials, EMI-Shielding Film

Toyo Ink America, LLC introduced Rexalpha conductive inks and electromagnetic interference (EMI) shielding films. Compatible with rotary screen, flat screen, flexo, and gravure, Rexalpha inks can be used to fabricate flexible printed circuits (FPCs), RFID-label antennae and EMI shields.

Printed electronics have been around for a while now, but it seems corporations have only just taken notice. Companies like Procter & Gamble (P&G), Home Depot, Boeing, and Decathlon SA have begun to use, or have plans in place to begin using, printed electronics.

Printed Electronics Technology Version 2.0—the printing of active devices such as thin film transistors (TFTs) for display backplanes and RFID—has been moving along the technology development curve for the past 10 years. Printed Electronics Technology Version 1.0—the printing of passive devices such as membrane switches for a touch-control panel on a microwave oven—is more than 25 years old. Since the end of 2010, we have seen the blending of these two technology portfolios. It appears that this year may be the turning point as companies begin integrating printed electronics technologies (materials, substrates, roll-to-roll manufacturing format, processes, devices, components, and more) in a variety of automotive, aerospace, communications, medical, and smart grid applications.

IPC the Association Connecting Electronics Industries last year established a Printed Electronics Committee (D60) with four subcommittees (D61, D62, D63, and D64) to develop standards for companies to facilitate the seamless integration of printed electronics technologies in future products. The IPC Printed Electronic D60 Committee is reaching out to the printing industry seeking those with the expertise to participate in the development of standards for these emerging technologies—functional inks, substrates, design for printing, quality control methods and tooling, etc.

Dan Gamota, chair of the IPC Printed Electronics Committee states, “My goal is to help establish a portfolio of standards that have been produced by subject matter experts in the different technologies (printing, functional inks, graphic arts, and electronics) that together form the emerging printed electronics field. We want to make sure that the standards touch upon the nuances introduced by the different technologies and, therefore, the standards are considered as complete as possible when published. As the printed electronics field grows we will revisit the standards and update them as necessary.”

Each IPC subcommittee has a specific topic that it is addressing:

1. Subcommittee D61 is performing an environmental scan of best practices to begin to draft Design Guidelines for Printed Electronics (IPC-2291);

2. Subcommittee D62 is preparing for ballot a draft standard titled Requirements for Printed Electronics Base Materials (IPC-4921), which provides technical information for flexible substrate materials such as paper, polyamide, polyester, metal or glass used for solar, batteries, membrane switches, displays, etc.;

3. Subcommittee D63 is circulating a draft document for comments named, Requirements for Printed Electronics Functional Materials (IPC-4591). This standards document discusses additive materials such as: conductive functional inks that are printed for use in touchscreens and RFID antennae; and,

4. Subcommittee D64 is beginning to draft the Performance Requirements for Printed Electronics Assemblies (IPC-6901), which will establish the necessary performance requirements that determine the operating environment in which the printed electronics assembly is going to appear, for example in high temperature or moisture environments.

Subcommittee D61 is tasked with one of the most critical topics for success. In response to the question of whether file formats used to record and transmit designs for printed electronics will be addressed by Subcommittee D61, Mr. Gamota stated, “We have typically used electronic design layout software to create a design and later converted it to PDF or DFX for the printer to manufacture the product. A standard for file format design and transmission is necessary to establish and sustain the growth of the industry. The technology developers have commented that without this standard, printed electronics may not grow past a niche technology.”

As the application of standard print equipment grows to fit and support printed electronics manufacturing, the ability to specify and test a workflow will be important.

Currently, a direct PDF interface is not available; however, in the long term it is expected that the transition to PDF will occur, since using PDF eliminates calculation errors, assures data integrity, and minimizes the opportunity for routing mistakes.

If you are interested in participating in the development of standards for this exciting new field of technology, or would like further information, contact Debbie Orf, NPES Assistant Director of Standards, phone: (703) 264-7200 or e-mail: dorf@npes.org.

Source: NPES.
 

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