Printed Electronics USA 2008 Showcases Potential of New Technology

By David Savastano, Ink World Editor | 02.02.09

Opportunities for printed electronics continue to emerge, with companies ranging from BASF, DuPont, Nokia and Evonik to innovative manufacturers such as Soligie, Konarka, Kovio and Plextronics offering looks at what the future may hold.

At a time when the world’s economy is under tremendous pressure, there are few areas that are

Attendees listen to advancements being made in the field of printed electronics.
enjoying strong growth. One such area is the emerging field of printed electronics (PE). The idea is an intriguing one: by using low-cost printing processes to make certain electronic products such as RFID tags, solar cells, display screens, batteries and countless other applications, manufacturers can cut their costs and speed up production dramatically.

Estimates as to the overall potential size of the market are as varied as they are large, with some figures reaching as high as $30 billion by 2015. These numbers have come down some in recent years, as there are hurdles to be overcome in each of these applications. However, there are plenty of companies, large and small alike, which are developing solutions for this field.

The potential of this embryonic industry could be seen at Printed Electronics USA 2008, held last month in San Jose, CA. According to the show’s organizer, IDTechEx, more than 700 attendees gathered at the show, an increase of more than 150 people from last year. Meanwhile, speakers and exhibitors alike ranged from corporate giants such as BASF and Evonik to innovative manufacturers such as Soligie and Plextronics.

Some of the possibilities for the PE market were showcased during the opening session, notably by Dr. Tapani Ryhanen, director and head of Nokia’s Eurolab, and Tod Riedel, COO, Structural Graphics.
Dr. Ryhanen’s talk, “Morph - Transformable Mobile Device,” looked at Morph, a future generation of Nokia’s cellular phones.

The winner of the 2008 Red Dot Design Award for Best of the Best, the Morph is a thin, conformable, transparent phone that Nokia is developing in conjunction with the University of Cambridge. Dr. Ryhanen noted that there are three billion mobile subscribers, and one billion wireless subscribers; mobile devices outnumber PCs by 5 to 1, and 10 to 1 in some growth markets.

It uses smart surface material that is self-cleaning, and is oleophobic and hydrophobic, has a tactile sensory array and is energy harvesting. The creation of stretchable devices allows it to have conformability, with nanoscale structures controlling elasticity; it does have some rigid islands amid the flexible structures.

“Printed electronics can be an enabler of future mobile devices, by allowing customization and personalization more near to customers,” Dr. Ryhanen concluded.

In “Esquire’s 75th Anniversary Magazine - The Cover Story,” Mr. Riedel spoke of the use of PE on the cover. Structural Graphics designed the cover, which utilized E Ink’s technology, creating 100,000 covers featuring flashing displays as well as an ad by Ford. Mr. Riedel noted that the issue sold out from the newsstands within a day or two.

“The key is to brainstorm early with all responsible parties,” Mr. Riedel recommended.

The benefits of rollfed printing for electronic components were explained by Joe Miglionico, business development for Avery Dennison, a supplier of pressure sensitive materials as well as RFID inlays. Avery Dennison has a strong background in printed electronics by virtue of its R&D work on small battery testers – those that are built right into the battery label.

Mr. Miglionico explained that each battery tester contained 21 layers, 17 of which were printed and converted internally by the company. Printing processes involved were flexography and screen, and the process also involved delamination and relamination steps, with multiple reinsertions of the printed web with exact re-registration required. “We had to make 49 discrete measurements per label at speeds of more than 100 feet per minute,” he said.
Toppan Forms is a leading innovator of PE products, and Keiichi Utaka, managing director of Toppan Forms, discussed how PE can help form a ubiquitous society.

“The ubiquitous society is coming. It is said we can print on anything but air and water,” Mr. Utaka said. “Many more applications for print on demand are expected. Printed electronics will expand the printing and electronic domains, creating a fusion.”

As an example of what PE can do, Mr. Utaka showed audio business cards and postcards, as well as security envelopes activated by fingerprint with passwords that can be erased.

Two young companies showcased their recent developments. In his talk titled “The Revolution Has Begun: Plastic Electronics Technology Is Poised to Propel New Frontiers in Consumer Electronics,” Joe Eschbach, vice president of marketing for Plastic Logic, talked about the company’s eReader Display Technology, ideal for business use as its present memory can hold thousands of pages of documents. Plastic Logic recently opened a $150 million factory in Dresden, and is scheduled to ship in Q2 2009.

In 2007, Kovio, Inc. made headlines when it introduced the first all-printed silicon transistor, and in 2008, the company launched the world’s first silicon ink-based RFID tag. Amir Mashkoori, CEO of Kovio, Inc., discussed the possibilities for PE in item level tagging in “A New Semiconductor Technology Paradigm.” Mr. Mashkoori noted that from the introduction of barcodes on Wrigley’s gum packs in 1974, there are now 10 trillion barcodes annually, each with 48-bit intelligence. 

“We have more capability in our hands now,” Mr. Mashkoori said. “Today we need a little more data than barcodes, up to 128 bits. It’s an elastic market that depends upon price, and past a nickel is one of the inflection points; two cents is the next point. Silicon can’t go below a nickel in a viable market. If we can produce 10 trillion tags at one to two cents, that’s $100 billion to $200 billion. Today, the RFID market is 2.2 billion units, and is a $2 billion market. Item level tags are 20 cents apiece, and are a $409 million market.

“Printed electronics has disruptive cost advantages compared to conventional silicon,” Mr. Mashkoori concluded. “The issue is how fast we can move.”

So how large is the market for PE? In his remarks, Raghu Das, IDTechEx’s CEO, reported that there are 2,250 organizations and universities working on PE: 660 in PV, 540 in transistors, 510 in displays and lighting, and 540 on other applications. Mr. Das said that PE investment has been driven by material suppliers, who are putting in the most research. Investment in printing equipment is beginning to increase, and film needs more investment.

The concurrent sessions also offered a good look at the potential markets for PE, as industry leaders gave presentations on their portion of the markets.

Among the highlights was Thin, Flexible Printed Batteries, which featured talks by Matthew Ream, vice president, marketing for Blue Spark Technologies; Dr, Shigeyuki Iwasa, principal researcher for NEC and Richard Percival, director, world wide sales at Infinite Power Solutions.

Mr. Ream noted that industry consultants NanoMarkets place the RFID and smart packaging market, which now has annual sales of $17 million, at $4.6 billion in 2015, and talked about new possibilities such as RF-based applications, including battery assisted passive RFID, low cost active RFID, RF linked sensors ad real time locating systems; transdermal patches for drug delivery, wound care and cosmetics; promotional and novelty items such as greeting cards, interactive packaging and toys; and smart cards complete with one-time passwords, proximity detectors, loyalty and gift cards. 

Electronics as Art. Signage, Human Interface – Large Area Displays was another interesting session. its speakers included Dr, William Scholz, R&D manager for Rogers Corporation; Sriram Peruvemba, vice president of marketing at E Ink; Dr. James Caruso, vice president, sales and marketing for TRED Displays; Dr. Gabriel Marcu, senior scientist at Apple; and Professor Mats Robertsson, senior scientist at Acreo.

The subject of photovoltaics was the topic of a full day’s concurrent session. Among the highlights were talks by leaders such as Dr. Nasser Karam, vice president of Spectrolab Boeing; Dr. Eitan Zeira, vice president, printed photovoltaics for Konarka Technologies, Inc.; Dr. Louay Eldada, CTO of HelioVolt; Andy Hannah, CEO of Plextronics Inc.; and Dr. Vishal Shrotriya, director of technology development for Solarmer Energy, Inc. Among the key topics was increasing efficiency and lifetime fo the printed solar cells for this growing market.

Among the presenters during the concurrent session on printing were Dr. David Sime, director of technology transfer for Soligie; Stan Farnsworth, vice president – marketing at Novacentrix; Dr. Mike Renn, senior scientist for Optomec; and Devin MacKenzie of Add-Vision.

Dr. Renn explained his company’s development of an aerosol inkjet printer of thin film transistor circuits. The machine, of which about 60 are installed, features and atomizer and a head for focusing droplets of material for printing. “It’s not inkjet,” he said, “but it’s related.” A sheath of gas surrounding the droplets helps increase their application velocity to 100 meters per second. They are delivered from the head to the substrate from a distance of 2mm to 5mm away.

The materials session included talks by Peter Eckerle of BASF Future Business GmbH, Paul Glatkowski of Eikos, Zhihao Yang of NanoMas technologies, Nigel Caiger of Sun Chemical, and Frank Keohan of H.C. Starck.