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Printed electronics has reached its tipping point as evidenced by the world's largest event on the topic, Printed Electronics USA, now taking place in Santa Clara California, staged by the leading analysts on the subject, IDTechEx. The attendance at the Masterclasses, the conference and the exhibition is sharply up on last year. More large companies are in attendance including many potential end users from consumer goods to aerospace and there are many new start-ups. Indeed, the variety of actual and potential applications is much greater this year and the enlarged exhibition is even more international and comprehensive in capabilities and materials revealed.
Keynotes to End User Forum and Graphene LIVE!
The keynote speeches were truly inspiring with Raghu Das of IDTechEx giving a close analysis of market sizes, winners and losers and reasons why. Professor Takao Someya of the University of Tokyo addressed emerging applications of printed skin-like sensors and organic photovoltaics with an amazing variety of examples of potential applications. He placed all this in the context of computing becoming embedded into everyday things. His tightly rollable and crushable organic devices are unusually thin, some can even be rolled around a human hair. They could lead to such things as the mobile phone that unwinds a large display and keyboard and other radically improved human interfaces and ways of providing large photovoltaic area in a small device.
Dr Slade Culp of United Technologies Research Center described how printed electronics is now regarded as a key enabling technology for most of their products from aerospace to elevators and building management. UTRC has spent only a modest amount on printed electronics in 2012 but will ramp up sharply in 2013, something heard from other potential users at the show, many of which, like UTC, are both developers and buyers of this technology now.
Dr Ivan Poupyrev of Walt Disney Corporation mesmerised the audience with very innovative new human interfaces and functionalities, including how to make a growing plant into an electronic musical instrument. The end user forum then commenced (Boeing, MeadWestvaco, Procter & Gamble and the European beverages giant Diageo), in parallel with Graphene LIVE! a popular new two day session.
The four parallel sessions in the afternoon were well attended, with particular interest in consumer applications, an example being the contactless, shelf-powered "product glorifiers" of Leggett & Platt, a company that pleaded for power standards beyond the WPC Qi (pronounced Chi) inductive standard.
One company, many verticals served
T-Ink described how its origins in Toys and Novelties have led to many things including a skunk works apartment donated by a very large developer, where T-Ink will eliminate all wires despite adding many sensors. Another new front is reducing weight and cost in vehicles and releasing space and improving reliability using printed electronics. Partnerships are common for T-Ink, each for a different key vertical. Military is a key vertical. In Construction, their printed systems permit lighting to be moved without an electrician.
In Automotive, the Ford Fusion now has T-ink "plywood electronics" replacing the overhead instrument cluster. Screen, offset, gravure, pad, flexo, rotary, spray and other technologies are employed, but mainly only with carbon and silver and a lot of imagination. Volume production is always farmed out. The multiple printing technologies accord with a general view at the event that there is no one winner in printing technology and there never will be. Indeed, single companies using multiple printing technologies and serving many key verticals as appropriate are increasingly encountered. The Marketing Store and others pointed to "the proliferation of touch screen devices", increasingly printed.
Highlights from Second Day at Printed Electronics USA 2012
The second and final day of Printed Electronics USA in Santa Clara really illustrated how far the technologies had progressed and the huge variety of players in the field. The event, organized by IDTechEx, was the best and biggest edition of the series so far. Amongst the attendees were company founders, directors, engineers, academics, but also students and patent attorneys. In particular, there were a large number of end users attending the show.
The three parallel tracks covered a wide range of applications, such as sensors, displays and memory, but also materials like conductive inks and barrier films. An additional track was dedicated to manufacturing and Graphene LIVE! was also running at the same time.
Well established companies such as E Ink and Corning gave presentations about their latest product concepts. Dr Aki Tomita from Citala talked about how a smart window could regulate indoor temperature by controlling the transmission of solar heat, without resulting in a darker room.
There were also talks from leading academics. For example, Prof Reinhold Dauskardt from Stanford University presented a new material made of silicon carbide that surprisingly had the same elastic properties of plastic.
Dr Alex Turnbull from British company Avidity IP was here to emphasize the importance of building a patent portfolio from a business perspective. Full awareness of the existing IP landscape can indeed lead to a greater freedom to operate.
Origami on Manufacturing Street
On the tradeshow floor, some brands were already well known, like PolyIC, Thinfilm, Xaar or DuPont. Others were new to the show. Take ISORG for example. For this French startup company, it was the first time at Printed Electronics USA. This was a good opportunity to see demos of their printed photo-detector arrays in action. IDTechEx also had a booth and many attendees walked in to seek some advice from the team of analysts.
Like previous years, visitors could also see some samples of products at Demonstration Street. One of the most popular was a 23" touch panel by Cambrios that used the proprietary ClearOhm material instead of a conventional ITO layer. But the key novelty this year was Manufacturing Street, a dedicated space for showing various printing processes. Novacentrix certainly made a big impression with their Pulseforge photonic curing tool running right in front of the visitors.
Manufacturing Street was also the place to collect a sample of origami electronics, a printed circuit on paper which is only functional when correctly folded. For the visitors it was a fun and interactive way to learn more about printed batteries and conductive ink. Prof Malcolm Keif of California Polytechnic State University (CalPoly) came up with the concept during a class on printed electronics. But he did not expect so much success during the show. "There was a lot of interest from the show attendees. I was amazed at how many people came to pick up [the origami kit]." He explained that using regular paper as the substrate for the conductive ink was probably what intrigued most people. "I love it, it was amazing", said Emma Lacey, a CalPoly student who helped screen print the samples. For her, being at Printed Electronics USA for the first time was a great opportunity to see real demos of what she had learnt in class, and witness all the latest development of the technology. "It was unique, unexpectedly."
The closing keynotes were truly international, with speakers from Japan, South Africa and UK.
Prof Toshihide Kamata from the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST) gave an overview of the latest development from his research group. His talk addressed various technology advances in organic semiconductor technology towards the emergence of ambient electronic devices.
Next, Prof David Britton (University of Cape Town) reminded the audience that silicon could also be used as a printable material. He explained how charge transport was enabled between clusters of silicon nanoparticles, and introduced a new type of transistor based on silicon and silver. This latest discovery was still under review for publication and most attendees would have never heard of it before.
Finally, Dr Peter Harrop, chairman of IDTechEx, gave the concluding remarks. He noted that printed electronics was being rapidly commercialized, especially in the automotive industry where it delivers huge improvements in cost, volume, weight and reliability. Closing the conference, he invited the audience to keep an eye on several hot topics for next year: graphene, supercapacitors, touch surfaces and additive (3D) printing.
Berlin in 2013
The Printed Electronics series of events will be moving next to Berlin, Germany, included in the event will be Printed Electronics Europe 2013 and Graphene LIVE! Europe 2013. For the first time, it will also be co-located with Energy Harvesting and Storage Europe 2013 and Wireless Sensor Networks 2013. Analysts IDTechEx see the co-location of all these topics as a great benefit to attendees - not only will the networking opportunities be vast, but the overlap between topics is becoming more evident as the industries progress. To find out about the event, see www.PrintedElectronicsEurope.com.
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