Invisible Electronics for Packaging Applications
Starting with the printing of invisible RFID antennas, there is a need for compatible operator friendly software and post press equipment and ecological aspects are also being considered. One impediment is the large number of patents to be navigated. However, work on fast antenna and chip placement (later transistor printing) is proceeding with the objective of RFID hidden in packaging of items offered in shops and pharmacies. This printed electronics will serve such purposes as anti-counterfeiting and making empty shop shelves, due to stockouts, a thing of the past. Potential includes replacing ten trillion barcodes yearly that deface consumer goods and improving customer service with what will soon be one trillion postal packages yearly. The potential for this new electronics is huge.
However, as MAN Roland pointed out, printed electronics inside packaging is about more that hidden circuits. It involves promotion and entertainment. Lights and images, even games can be revealed when a package is touched or otherwise activated. One developer had paper that comes alive with moving images when you breathe on it and all agreed that printed electronics is a cornucopia for innovative design - indeed two artists gave presentations and demonstrations that were very well attended and rated. They revealed many things from animated wallpaper with growing, light emitting images, to the prayer mat that lights up when accurately oriented towards Mecca. These exist today. Another delightful idea was the paper box alarm clock you can screw up and throw, with satisfaction, into the trash bin when it wakes you. However, these new printed devices are so rugged, it may continue to ring!
Smart substrates are an important part of this new electronic world. For example, the presentation “Skin-like Electronics: Fabrication of Thin Film Devices with Ultra-low Temperature Process” by Ingrid Graz of the Nanoscience Centre, University of Cambridge UK described her work with StÈphanie P. Lacour on this topic. She gave three related objectives - electronics that can be shaped, stretched and interfaced with biological tissue. She pointed to potential applications at the human-machine interface and both on and in the human body, from fashion and e-textiles to prosthetic skin and even neural interfaces. Sometimes it is useful if the device stretches but returns to its original form, including the functioning printed electronics on the surface. That is beginning to be achieved.