Printed Electronics - The Big Picture
By Dr Peter Harrop
Most of the thousand or more participants in printed electronics are attempting incremental improvements to existing products and missing the big picture. For example, faced with heavy losses on Liquid Crystal Displays LCD displays because of over capacity, many are investing hundreds of millions of dollars in Organic Light Emitting Displays (OLEDs) with slightly better performance but still a rigid glass structure and minimal printing. This is rarely profitable either, as these displays are applied to the very price competitive applications such as television and mobile telephones.
Startling new capabilities
If we look at the big picture, we see that printed and even partially printed electronics can achieve startling new capabilities never before seen and that means totally new applications and products. It also means numbers many magnitudes higher than those seen with conventional electronics. Here are a few of them.
With ink jet printed electronics we can make every circuit unique while printing billions yearly - that means personalisation and low cost security. Foldable electronics is possible where the used package is folded into something useful or a product can fold into several modes of operation. The laptop solar power supply folds down like a pack of cards (Konarka) or the house solar power supply folds to go in the car when you buy it (Orion Solar).
Edible electronics gives food traceability and drug diagnostics (Kodak and Somark Innovations). Rollable electronics gives large screen performance with phones and PDAs (Polymer Vision) and the superior fault tolerance of printed electronics currently interests NASA. Stretchable electronics promises new packaging, medical and other concepts (Tokyo University, Nanosonic, Electromuscle) and wearable printed displays, logic and power is leading to new medical, fashion and other products pursued by over 30 organisations. Thin and conformal light-emitting AC electroluminescent displays on vehicles, buildings, in subways etc are already a huge success thanks to elumin8 and others using printed plastic film, and Quantum Paper has even demonstrated animated colour with paper billboards.