A Guide to Printed Electronics: Advantages and Applications
Printed electronics: an overview
The term was first coined in the 1940’s when an Austrian engineer named Paul Eisler realised that traditional could be applied to the manufacture of a Printed Circuit Board ( ) to make . However, the concept is believed to have been invented much earlier by a German named Albert Hanson, who filed a patent for “Printed Wires” in 1903. His idea involved gluing a circuit pattern cut from copper foil onto a paraffin paper .
have come a long way since their conception over a century ago. Today, the term encompasses an entire industry devoted to the development of and materials that incorporate this . It is also used to describe the methods used to manufacture the technologies themselves. According to , the is currently worth around $41.2B USD, it is estimated that it will be worth approximately $74B USD by 2030.
Before the development of , circuits were made using point-to-point wiring, where components had to be hand-wired together. (photograph by Mataresephotos, Raimond Spekking /
were originally used to create such as keyboards and antennas. As has evolved, along with the ability to print onto different substrates such as glass, paper and plastic, the field has expanded to include flexible and . Common applications for the include solar cells, touch screens and displays, near field communication (NFC) and printed RFID tags.
The , aerospace, construction, automotive, and healthcare. According to a report by is segmented by applications into the following categories: lighting, batteries, RFID Tags, displays, (PV) cells, and sensors. With applications ranging from retail and packaging, to MarketsandMarkets a key area of growth is being driven by the Internet of Things (IoT), where smart surfaces will play a critical role in the integration of and smart materials into the built environment.
How do printed electronics work?
Printed and are created by applying a solution-based conductive material onto a using equipment. Low cost processes used in traditional such as , , flexography, , and offset lithography are used to create electrical devices. Nearly all industrial methods can be used for the manufacture of . technologies divide between sheet-based and roll-to-roll-based approaches. Sheet-based inkjet and are best for low-volume, high-precision work. Gravure, offset and flexographic are more common for high-volume production, such as cells. According to a market analysis report by Grand View Research, makes up over 50% of the revenue for the .
To create a printed electronic device, electrically functional, electronic or optical inks are deposited on a , creating active or passive devices, such as coils, resistors or capacitors. The materials applied include inorganic and , metallic conductors, nanoparticles, or .
Depending on the use-case, ), convert sunlight into electricity ( ), or numerous other applications. can be used to store a charge ( or battery), emit light when electricity is applied (
What are flexible electronics?
Traditional are usually made on inflexible substrates. Flexible are distinct from these in that they can fold, bend, twist, wrap, roll and stretch, conforming to many shapes and enabling the development of unique products, features and capabilities. A can be made up of several layers, but generally contains at least a passive made of plastic, paper or a textile, and of or foil. The conductive material used depends on the , but will usually be either , silver, carbon, gold, or a composite of these.
(photograph by U.S. Army RDECOM / CC-BY-2.0
Advances in are revolutionizing the . With their ability to conform to more organic shapes, they impart a degree of design freedom that can increasingly be incorporated into both consumer and industrial products. We can already see this in products that incorporate , like LG’s rollable tv, and flexible sensors, however that is only half the advantage. Thin, lightweight and low cost, also enable the integration of digital intelligence into a wide range of surfaces and materials. One can imagine a not-so-distant future where a integrated into a wall could enable the collection of data directly from our environment, bringing digital intelligence to our world, and making all our environments safer, healthier and smarter.
How is printed electronics technology designed?
The is continuously evolving. New materials, processes, equipment and designs are constantly being developed to transform ideas into real products. In this ever-changing environment, industries that have not traditionally been associated with are being disrupted, offering a wide opportunity for innovation and growth. This is only fitting, seeing as the field of was invented in this way, by combining traditional techniques from the industry with . Similar to conventional , applies ink layers one atop another. So the coherent development of methods and ink materials are one of the field’s essential tasks.
(photograph by Bystrikt / CC-BY-SA-3.0
There are a few main areas where key advances in are happening. Research and development focuses on the improvement of processes and equipment, development of materials with particular properties, design and integration of hardware, and software development.
is designed by making changes or innovations to each, or several of these features in conjunction to solve new problems, or by adapting these to meet particular product specifications. One of the reasons the can be slow to innovate, is that developing novel can require collaboration between different stages of the supply chain or stack, for example the paint chemistry or hardware development.
This presents a unique opportunity for companies such as Bare Conductive. Our focus on Dynamically Functional Surfaces as a complete solution makes us uniquely suited to address market needs from the bottom up, delivering complete outcomes that encompass material selection, and hardware and industrial design, all the way to software development and connection to the cloud.
The challenges facing printed electronics
At Bare Conductive we believe the most interesting opportunity for today is in the creation of smart buildings through the integration of , , sensors, and other into the built environment. However, there are many challenges to seamlessly integrating into industry standard such as drywall, wallpaper, flooring and roofing.
Some of the challenges associated with these applications include and material selection, paint deposition, patterns, hardware integration and software development. There are many things to consider when designing solutions around all these factors. For example:
and – Developing solutions for smart buildings requires leveraging standard manufacturing processes and materials to take ad existing supply chains and minimize cost. Because of this, when selecting conductive coatings it is critical to select materials that make use of an existing . The challenge lies in understanding what materials and manufacturing processes are best suited for standardizing the manufacture of smart building materials.
patterns – When designing , pattern design is a critical factor. For example, when designing , the shape, size and pattern of a conductive trace can influence anything from material cost, to electrical interference, or a surface’s sensitivity and ability to perform a particular function. The challenge lies in developing the most effective pattern for a particular use-case or environment.
Hardware integration – Hardware is full of challenging opportunities for . These range from the development of small or flexible that can be easily incorporated into printed , to the design and manufacture of connectors that enable a robust and reliable link between rigid hardware and a .
Software development – Although not relevant for all applications, when dealing with sensors and IoT devices which need to connect to building management systems or to the cloud, developing software becomes a critical part for ensuring a robust stack.
Another challenge facing is the lack of awareness of the applications and benefits these technologies can bring to fields not traditionally associated with , and how these technologies can be harnessed and integrated into existing manufacturing processes.
This is where Bare Conductive leverages it’s broad community of individual users. By commercializing development kits, and making our accessible to designers, engineers and creatives, we put in the hands of the broadest possible audience, stimulating an open channel for experimentation and exploration.
Printed electronics market and technology benefits
The end-use markets for , healthcare, retail and packaging, aerospace and defense, construction and architecture. include automotive and transportation, c
For most of these markets, the attraction of for the fabrication and integration of mainly comes from the possibility of preparing stacks of micro-structured layers in a much simpler and cost-effective way compared to .
These thin and flexible devices can facilitate widespread low-cost for applications such as smart surfaces with integrated interfaces and switches, inbuilt occupancy sensors, discrete water sensors, , smart labels, interactive walls, and active clothing and wearables.
enables low-cost manufacturing at large scale, like in RFID-systems which enable contactless identification in trade and transport. on flexible substrates allows to be placed on curved surfaces, for example, solar cells on vehicle roofs, or the integration of buttons and switches into one part, such as a vehicle door, reducing cost in materials, assembly and part count. In some cases although cost is not lowered, like with conventional semiconductors, the higher cost is justified through much higher performance. allows the use of flexible substrates, which lowers production costs and allows fabrication of mechanically flexible circuits.
In the health sector, besides the development of non-intrusive wearables and monitoring devices, has the potential improve health outcomes by tackling hygiene, infection and transmission. offer the ability to create integrated touch-less interfaces using hygienic materials, allowing for the design of surfaces such as keypads, controls or light switches which can be easily cleaned and disinfected. Manufacturing these switches directly into furniture or walls, can also enable monitoring of occupancy and cleaning events.
According to some of the many benefits of technologies include:
- Lower costs
- Improved performance
- Improved environmental impact and energy savings
Printed electronics applications, today and into the future
The most common applications of panels for producing solar power, radio-frequency Identification (RFID) Tags and Antennas for tracking , monitoring devices, memory devices for data storage, screens, wearables, lighting or light-emitting diodes (LEDs), batteries and sensors. today is in solar cells or
Many of these applications have been around for decades, and as such continue to see incremental improvements through cost reduction and efficiency gains. To the general observer, the most obvious improvements are experienced through cheaper, thinner, higher quality devices (such as screens). However, some areas are seeing dramatic changes as new manufacturing methods and advancements are leading to profound innovations that will change our world dramatically.
The integration of sensors into smart materials is one such area which will bring about a complete revolution to the built environment. The ability to print, and manufacture directly onto construction materials is quickly becoming a reality, bringing us one step closer to a fully integrated Internet of Things.
At Bare Conductive we are working closely with some of the world’s largest companies in materials, construction, furniture, and transportation to integrate our into the materials and surfaces that surround us. Just like tablet computers transformed books from a single function paper surface to a multi-use, multi-function platform through software and cloud connectivity, have the potential to transform the walls and surfaces around us into active interfaces with a range of capabilities.