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Visions become reality: Capturing the market with printed electronics
Children’s books with light switches, wafer-thin illuminated tiles, rolls of solar cells or a handbag with a built-in charging station for the mobile phone – when print meets electronics, many dreams finally become true. The new processes promise diverse application possibilities, cost-efficient production as well as suitability for the masses. In the meantime, the laboratory experiments and prototypes have developed into real processes and products. A great opportunity for the printing industry and a welcome growth market.
„If you are hungry, push“ – soon the deliverer will be there with your great- smelling, favourite pizza. In the near future the „VIP Fridge Magnet“ will make sure of that. A fridge magnet – equipped with a Bluetooth sensor and memory chip – with which you can order your favourite pizza by the push of a button. As of this summer, Red Tomato wants to offer the „pizza emergency call“ to its customers. Unfortunately only a few will be able to enjoy this service, because the pizza chef only makes deliveries in Dubai. But this is only a small taste of what we can probably expect in the future.
"Branding via fridge magnets is nothing new in itself. It has been around a long time“, explains the Austrian marketing consultant Christian Mikolasch from Brand Big Bangs. However, he regards the radio-transmitter pizza emergency number as a very innovative idea. "Here we see a common concept that has been recycled reusing the latest technology. I find that imaginative and promising of success.“ According to him, the magnetic ordering button will not remain an isolated phenomenon. He predicts that in future other companies will also try to establish their brands in households by using similar concepts. He will presumably be proven right. Because a lot of concepts that seemed like dreams of the future have long since turned out to be not just idle fantasy but reality: T-Shirts, with printed-on logos which flash like an equalizer when the DJ changes the volume; cosmetics packaging that lights up as soon as a customer approaches; flu medication packaging that measures the patient's body temperature; miniature screens in newspapers that show video clips.
The revolution in the printing and electronics industry
These applications are made possible by so-called organic and printed electronics. In this, "electronic components, assemblies and applications (for example circuits, batteries or sensors) are manufactured completely or partially using printing processes. Instead of printed colours, electronically functioning materials are printed in the form of a liquid or paste“. That is the definition in Wikipedia. The electronics industry is hoping for many advantages from being able to print large-area and flexible printing materials such as paper and plastic.
Almost all industrial printing processes are, in principle, suitable for this – from offset printing to gravure up to flexo, screen and inkjet printing. And the prospects are promising, there are already some marketable products: Such as RFID chips, which can be read without contact, and solar cells and displays. The mass production of OLED displays is now already a multi-billion dollar market.
Other areas of application lie in intelligent packaging, medical technology and the pharmaceuticals industry or in the field of consumer electronics. Even classic print products can be upgraded with the new process. For example, so-called electroluminescent displays are possible, which can be livened up with light and colour effects or animations. For these, several layers of zinc sulphide and copper elements are applied onto the panel film in (screen) printing. The luminescent material lies between these conductor paths, electricity is fed over a programmable circuit board. The different surfaces can thus be illuminated. If printed electronics are then combined with 3D printing, three-dimensional objects can even be manufactured in one work step – already fully equipped with electronics.
A multi-billion dollar market
The possibilities are thus wide-ranging and the opportunities enormous, and the market is growing rapidly. A current study of IDTechEx, a consulting company for printed electronics, shows that the market for printed and potentially printed electronics will be worth 9.4 billion US dollars this year. This would be distributed over four main markets: For OLED displays – driven by Smartphones - for e-paper materials, for conductive colours and for photovoltaics.
The study "Impact of 2020 Megatrends on Chemicals“ by Frost & Sullivan also identifies organic electronics as a megatrend "that will have a long-term influence on business, politics, culture and personal aspects of life“. Further evidence of the growing importance of the segment is provided by a report by Markets and Markets. This forecasts that the market for organic and printed electronics will increase by more than one-hundred per cent to around 25 billion US dollars by 2015.
"Organic electronics is a market with major future potential and will take a firm place in our living environment, for example in intelligent labels on food packaging and solar cells on window panes. Organic and printed electronics is finding a very current application in E-book readers and touch-screens. The continual improvement in printing and production processes combined with cheap materials creates almost unlimited possibilities for applications“, says Wolfgang Mildner, Managing Director of PolyIC GmbH & Co. KG and President of the Organic and Printed Electronics Association, OE-A for short.
Above all else, logistics will benefit from RFID chips which save information and pass this on to a central system via a contact-free reading device. This allows a goods chain, for example, to be monitored in the fight against product piracy. Things will become even more exciting if printed electronics can be sensibly used not only on the surrounding packaging but also on the individual product. There are already examples in the medical industry, and in the near future there will possibly be electronic books with roll-up displays. And with nanotechnology, even wafer-thin displays can, for example, be printed on tickets, greetings cards, packaging and magazines and catalogues – there is no limit to the scope for experimentation here.
Printed electronics at drupa
On the first day of the "Future-of-Print" weekend, on 12 May, the OE-A will, in the drupa cube and by means of lectures by experts, be showing where the journey with "printed electronics“ may lead to in the future. "For the advertising print-buyer this is a quantum leap and for the printing industry a realistically high potential“, said Manuel Mataré, Director of drupa. "Because this will allow new fields of business to be opened in a new market to an unprecedented degree, we were absolutely certain that we wanted to incorporate this subject.“
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The future with printed electronics will also be shown at other places in drupa. For example, during the guided drupa Highlights Tours or in the drupa innovation park, for short ‘dip’, in Hall 7. Here, some companies together with the OE-A will present their innovations in their still new specialist field – for example, the interactive business card with flexible display, speaking packaging or a board game with an imprinted battery that lights up the OLED playing fields. The visitors will be able to take home some exciting giveaways. For those who would like to take a look at the latest innovations regarding printed electronics in other halls, the stand locations of all companies who do research or produce in this field can be found on the Printed Electronics Products roadmap.
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