Printed Electronics - the Giants Get Involved
Printed electronics often involves simple things such as printed conductive patterns to counter the pollution, unreliability, bulk, weight and cost of wires, solder and etched patterns. The US Army plans to use printed electronics to reduce the weight of a warfighter’s pack by two thirds and give him smart clothing that generates electricity, heats him, cools him, monitors vital signs, acts as a long range antenna and so on. Printed electronics is mainly about reducing cost but it also involves printed lasers, photodiode arrays and many other sophisticated structures some of which perform better and are more fault tolerant than traditional alternatives. Most commonly, printed electronics will be used where traditional technology is simply not a feasible solution, such as wallpaper that generates power and doubles as a television and lighting or electronic anti-counterfeiting on 100 billion cigarette packets yearly, giving traceability at a cost of only 0.1 cents per package. Only secondarily will it be used to create improvements to existing electronic products such as laptop computers, mobile phones and talking gift cards.
Printed electronics technology
The biggest potential of printed electronics lies in organic or combined organic/inorganic structures because they often promise the lowest costs, allied to the fastest printing technology, such as gravure employing water-based inks, with low temperature curing. Inkjet is also a most popular choice because of its tolerance of uneven substrates and its instant reprogramming. The silicon chip has little to offer beyond logic, memory and a few small sensors. By contrast co-deposition of different devices using printed electronics can exploit the fact that it is economical with a large footprint. For example, actuators, batteries, powerful capacitors and resistors, photovoltaics and a considerable choice of wide area sensors will be codeposited. This co-deposition of many large area components saves cost and increases reliability, something the silicon chip cannot achieve because it is only economical when very small.