Applications the key to printable electronics growth

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THE printed electronics industry is on the rise, as the industry sees applications in wearables and hybrid technology.

In preparation of the LOPEC International Exhibition and Conference for printed electronics, Wolfgang Mildner, owner of the consulting and technology company MSW, and Thibaud Le Séguillon, CEO of the solar-film manufacturer Heliatek, talked about the developments in the last year and for the future.

One obvious trend for the electronics industry in 2015 has been wearables, which spans multiple sectors of the industry. Wearable electronics are found in watches, fitness equipment, clothing with sensors, and a number of other applications that require connectivity and technology, but still have to be lightweight thin and flexible.

However, Mr Mildner says the industry should not lose sight of other applications for printable electronics, such as packaging technology.

Mr Le Séguillon agreed, citing the use of printed electronics for medical applications.

“Printed electronics has also an enormous potential in the medical sector,” he explained. “Every diabetic who places a drop of blood on a test strip to measure their blood sugar now uses printed electronics.”

In addition to wearables, 2015 seen a trend towards hybrid solutions, claims Mr Mildner.

“[Hybrid technology] combines the advantages of printed organic electronics and conventional silicon technology,” he said.

“Polyera, for example, will present a wristband at LOPEC that consists entirely of a flexible display. It shows bodily functions as well as classic data such as the time and is, of course, connected to the Internet. The sensor technology is printed electronics, but the processors consist entirely of classic silicon.”

Mr Le Séguillon, whose company Heliatek has installed a large pilot plant for printed organic solar cells in Singapore, pointed out that printable electronics can sometimes have an edge over classic electronics.

“Due to severe forest fires in Indonesia and all the smoke they created, there was no direct sunlight in Singapore. Classic photovoltaics did not generate any electricity there for weeks, but our technology also works very well with diffused light,” he said.

According to Mr Mildner, the key to further growth is to focus on applications, rather than the base technology.

“Take wearables, for example. In that case, printed electronics came into the game because they had the right properties,” Mr Mildner said.

“How they are manufactured—i.e. whether or not they are printed—is not that important to companies. That also applies to the automotive industry: In that case, lightweight components that are also flexible and can give designers more design freedom are interesting because of their characteristics, and not the technology.”

The LOPEC exhibition and conference will take place in Messe Munchen, Germany, from April 5 to 7 2016. It will showcase next generation applications of printed electronics, including its use in sporting goods, in interactive card games, on intelligent bandages, etc. It will also feature useful technology like ultra-thin, rollable glass which can act as a substrate for printed electronics.