Killer applications for printed electronics

DR PETER Harrop, chairman of IDTechEX, has written about killer applications in printed electronics.

DR PETER Harrop, chairman of IDTechEX, has written about killer applications in printed electronics.

According to Dr Harrop, every major consumer goods company now has a program to adopt printed electronics throughout its activities.

Printed electronics, while using skills based on plastics, paper and printing, is in fact a part of the electronics industry.

The first applications involving printed electronics occurred a number of years ago, for example the battery tester on the primary packaging of Duracell, GSI tamper detecting sensor on pharmaceuticals and membrane keyboards.

Dr Harrop says printed electronics is not primarily about reducing the cost of existing products, but rather about making something new possible. For example, the printed battery tester permits quick checks of battery life while on the move.

According to Dr Harrop, the biggest opportunity for printed electronics involve the public. While there is a place for printed electronics without a human interface such as anti-theft tags and covert tamper detection, it is a smaller market in comparison.

The IDTechEx report, “Brand Enhancement by Electronics in Packaging 2010-2020”, mentions 15 case studies where printed electronics is used in primary packaging.

Eight case studies concern smart labels and only two concern secondary packaging.

Printed electronics currently cost more, although they are useful in certain applications. They are also being used to call attention to marketing messages. For example, Esquire magazine used a $15 animated electronic display funded by a Ford car promotion, while Entertainment Age magazine had a $25 plus moving colour display with sound funded by a Pepsi Cola promotion.

Printed electronics are also being used to rejuvenate some old printed products. McDonald’s place mats, Hallmark party tablecloths and Hasbro and Character Visions board games have been made interactive with sound and light emission.

Primary packages talk to tell customers to advise of prize wins or to reinforce an advertisement. Tear off rewards on primary packaging are now becoming electronic, boosting interest and valuable.

IDTechEX says it is also seeing a trend in printed electronics which are waterproof, washable and moulded into plastic without damage. FM/AM/GPS/GSM antennas in cars are printed then moulded to shape in plastic body parts. Completely printed and laminated replacements for instrument clusters and wiring will save weight, cost and space in cars.

IDTechEx will share these insights and more at Printed Electronics USA, which includes visits to centres of excellence, master classes, an exhibition, and a conference from 1 to 2 December 2010.