Brand Enhancement by Electronics in Packaging
So what is this new printed electronics technology? Well, it is fiendishly difficult in all aspects so special interest groups are wrong to argue that it all ends up as plastic electronics, every layer printed being organic in nature. Wish that it were that simple? The truth is that organic, inorganic and composite chemicals are employed, often in just one type of printed component such as a certain type of printed display.
Special printing machines
Many types of printing technology are needed so even one printed component may have its different layers deposited by different types of printing machines. Screen printing and ink jet printing are currently most popular but extensive modification to a printing machine is usually required if it is to perform its electronic task well enough. Even the paper or more often plastic film used as substrate usually needs to be unusually pure, smooth and mechanically optimised. For example, polyester film is popular but rarely packaging grade. Some processes call for high temperature annealing and stainless steel foil, polyimide or polyethylene naphthalate film may be necessary. Nonetheless, simpler, lower cost, more environmental options are gradually proving possible and a huge new industry is in the making. There are some unfortunate aspects however. The silicon chip revolution started with transistors because they are needed on nearly everything electronic but we are still waiting for viable printed transistors sold in volume in appropriate circuits. We have many types of printed display, resistor, capacitor, sensor and so on but we usually have to incorporate a silicon chip to make something saleable and this has rather defeated the whole objective of very low price.
However, all these problems are being overcome and the next few years will see an avalanche of announcements of new products and capabilities. This will be assisted by creative design rather than the "improve something that already exists" approach of so many engineering led packaging projects in the past. Hopefully those many brand managers, brand facing media suppliers, packaging professionals that are persisting with the toolkit of the last century such as changing color and shape and adding a few mechanical gismos will also get up to speed on e-packaging and its printed electronics. They will certainly look very silly when competing brands modernise in this way.
The price of the new features