What are the killer applications for printed electronics? Which technologies are soon to be available in the marketplace and which are distant dreams? Is organic electronics the ultimate technology or does it now look as if inorganic and organic printed devices have a place? Are the traditional horizontal transistors the way forward or are the minority working on vertical transistors onto something? What are the crucial manufacturing technologies?
The wealth of opportunity
Concerning applications, Walt Bonneau of Cubic Corporation will talk at the world’s largest conference on the subject “Printed Electronics USA” in San Francisco, expressing his view that, “Printed Electronics offers a host of opportunities for the transit industry, providing cost effective replacements of conventional ticketing.” As an investor, speaker Subra Narayan of Kodak Venture Capital, says, “I believe that the opportunity for investment in the technologies to enable printed electronics for applications including display backplanes is very attractive and look forward to providing some insight in this area during my talk.” By contrast, speaker Thomas Jensen of Paksense, says, “We believe there are tremendous opportunities to apply printed electronics technologies in smart packaging and labelling.” Indeed, The Compliers Group will describe their success in deploying smart blister packs to monitor which pill was taken when, thus improving the integrity of drug trials.
Phil Sage of Hasbro will cover the intriguing topic of “The Future of Toys: The Need For Change”. He explains, “Hasbro continues to develop new products through innovation. Printed electronics opens up exciting new possibilities for us.” We shall also hear the latest conquests of virtuosos elumin8 and T-ink applying printed displays, interconnects, heaters, actuators and more to military, merchandising, automotive and many other applications including electronics as art. Even silicon chip giant ST Microelectronics will reveal the great future it sees “post silicon” and displays giants Samsung and LG Philips LCD will show how printed versions are in sight.
The big picture
The independent analysts will convert all this into figures and forecasts. Speaker Dr Jennifer Colegrove of iSuppli Corporation says, “We believe that the applications of flexible displays will be very broad ranging and we shall share our research on the flexible display technology challenge and market forecast.” Dr Peter Harrop of analysts IDTechEx, the conference organizers, will cover “The Global Market for Printed Electronics”. IDTechEx sees exponential progress towards a $300 billion market for printed electronics in 2027 with printed logic and memory together growing to be about $8 billion in 2017. This will mimic the early growth of sales of the silicon chip market.
The main market driver in 2017 will be the need for flexible and conformal, lightweight electronics in applications from billboards to smart packaging, smart skin patches and interior lighting for cars. Next will come performance of these circuits, particularly their low cost compared with ones based on silicon chips. (The printed versions will incur one hundredth of the manufacturing cost and they will even have many different components co-deposited not separately connected, saving even more and improving reliability). Then come other aspects such as being environmental, non-poisonous and avoiding rare metals. The relative weighting is shown below.
Technologies now and in the future
As for which technologies are here and now and which are distant dreams, Soligie will share its “Commercialisation through Collaborative Innovation” and Poly IC will describe its first success in selling anti-counterfeiting and RFID labels based on reel to reel printed transistors. Menippos will describe its large sales of organic electronic gaming cards and GSI will cover the “Functional Printing Applications and Requirements to Compete.” A scoop for IDTechEx is Kovio making its first announcement on its revolutionary new printed transistor process.
New semiconducting inks come thick and fast. Speaker Dr Giles Lloyd of Merck Chemicals says, “Merck is helping drive progress in printed electronics by developing organic semiconductors and formulations for high volume production. We will share our progress towards this aim.” It has certainly set the pace with a stable, printable organic semiconductor in its laboratory that has the highest mobility in the world and can lead to higher frequency transistors that are therefore more saleable. It is also developing inorganic semiconductors. Others are assisting in the commercialization of this wide range of technologies. Speaker Mark Hartney of US Display Corporation declares, “USDC, through its Flexible, Printed, Organic Electronics Initiative, is a catalyst for the rapid evolution of printed displays and we shall share our latest progress.”
Magic or reality?
Should we contrast this with the little understood magic of quantum dots, the remarkable properties of carbon nanotubes and so on all being in the distant future? Not so, says George Gruner of Unidym. “We are confident that carbon nanotubes will have a significant impact on printed electronics in the very near future. The meeting is an excellent opportunity to explain why this is the case.” Then there is the increasing shortage of precious metals where Raghu Das of IDTechEx will explain the problem and H.C. Starck will give one solution - its increasingly popular organic replacement for indium oxide transparent electrodes.
Truly global news and new possibilities
With over 100 speakers, visits to six local state-of-the-art facilities, four optional masterclasses and an exhibition, this event provides a cornucopia of opportunities and that includes device design and manufacturing technology. For example, out of 200 organizations now developing printed transistors, only 10% or so stray from the traditional design of field effect transistor that dates back about forty years. However, although “vertical” transistors, where the controlled current moves vertically, has only become a niche market in the form of silicon chips, there is reason to believe that it has far more potential in the form of printed transistors. Higher current and frequency, smaller feature size and lower cost seem possible. For example, speaker David Margolese ORFID seems to agree with the many Japanese giants patenting new variants of Vertical Organic FETs called VOFETS. He says, “We continue to believe that printed vertical transistors have a great future and we are working toward bringing several variations of this device to printed applications.” Even state of the art electroactive substrates will be covered. Apply a voltage and they change shape.
Codeposition of power?
We must not forget power. Indeed batteries, photovoltaics, transistor circuits and displays are all going to be co-deposited before long. Professor Bernard Kippelen of Georgia Institute of Technology and its spinoff LumoFlex says, “The efficiency at which organic photovoltaics can be commercialized has been variously quoted between 5% and 10%. We feel it depends on the products offered and we shall share our work on flexible power for wireless sensor networks, a major market need.”
Manufacturing technology - the essentials
The advances in manufacturing are coming at least as rapidly as those in design and materials. For example, take truly nano silver ink of NanoMas Technologies. The particles are a few nanometers across not the typical tens of nanometers. It has even been deposited and cured on acetate film, still giving superb conductivity. Its use is leveraged by use in Optomec “aerosol jet” printers. These are a totally new development and they will be presented at the conference by Optomec, together with the latest from NanoMas. Professor Peter Peumans of Stanford University will explain, “Printing High Performance Electronics using Vapor Jets.”
For the high speed production envisaged by most participants we must marry the speed of conventional printing with sophisticated in-line testing that is more relevant to electronics. Speaker Yair Kipman of ImageXpert says, “Sophisticated inspection, both on-line and off-line, will be key to the printed electronics industry. We’ll be discussing the role of machine vision systems and the challenges that are specific to this market.” OTB and others will also cover production aspects.
For more see www.idtechex.com/PEUSA