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Emerging Printing Technologies — Business Lines Are Forming

November 2007 By Mark Smith
Technology Editor
FLYING CARS and colonies in space were once seriously predicted to be a reality by now. Closer to home, though, experts also said that Adobe Photoshop and the Mac would never be acceptable for professional graphic arts applications.

Any attempt to predict the course of technological development amounts to an educated guess at best. Even once a prototype has been developed, the scale-up to volume production can be problematic. Often, it is an unexpected development that leads to success.

Printed electronics, security printing and lenticular are three technological developments that may hold opportunities for commercial printers. Each is still a work in process to a degree, so the exact size and nature of their market potential is yet to be determined.

The term “printed electronics” (printing of conductive inks) is being applied to such a wide range of processes and applications that it’s hard to make any definitive statements about opportunities for commercial printers. The raw numbers are very impressive, though.

In its market report—“Organic & Printed Electronics Forecasts, Players & Opportunities 2007-2027”—the IDTechEx research firm forecasts the market for currently and potentially printed electronics (including organic, inorganic and composite materials) to increase from $1.18 billion in 2007 to $48.2 billion in 2017, and more than $300 billion in 2027.

Today, conductive inks, sensors and OLED (organic light-emitting diode) displays account for almost all of that volume, the firm says, with 31.6 percent of these electronics already being fully or partially printed. That figure will rise to 90.3 percent by 2017, projects the Cambridge, MA-based company.

Future Developments

The bad news: Aspects of the process are keeping offset lithography in the “possible future development” category. Also, much of the forecasted market potential of printed electronics is in making components for other manufacturing operations that may set it up as a captive process.

“Electronic” paper is the development track most likely to impact commercial printing in the nearest term. There are two technology branches in this category.

E-paper developers have sought to produce cost-effective, flexible displays that can be used in place of printed materials. The initial flurry of activity in this arena created a lot of buzz that has since tapered off.

An alternative approach now showing promise is adding printed electronic components to substrates used in conventional (digital or offset) printing. Paper, paperboard and other materials can be made dynamic and interactive with the addition of sound and/or lighting effects, even text displays. Posters, packaging, calendars, floor graphics and even wallpaper are among the applications being developed.
 

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