Betting Big on Printed Electronics

Printed Electronics NanotroncisPrinted electronics may be the next best thing that can happen to the world of electronics, after semiconductor/silicon chips. They are seen to become an integral part of a great number of things that people may use in the not so distant future.

These, in gist, were what scientists and technology people were saying at the 2010 GlobalTronics held recently in Singapore.

Printed electronics refer to printing semiconducting organic polymers or conductive ink on paper, plastic or textile to create electronically functional devices.

They function like silicon chips, but even people who bet big on printed electronics, including Singapore Institute of Manufacturing Technology research scientist Albert Lu, say they are not replacing the traditional semiconductor technology, at least not for now.

Many in the industry think printed electronics are the best option in areas where silicon chips can hardly cope, such as simple electronic circuits that need to be flexible and conform to any shape, surface and size. More importantly, they are less costly and are environment-friendly.

In a presentation at the 2010 GlobalTronics, Lu said the market for printed, thin film and organic electronics this year was seen to hit $1.92 billion, of which printed electronics would account for about 35 percent.

In 10 years, he said, this market would balloon to $55.1 billion, with printed electronics accounting for 71 percent.

Lu said that three years from now, a substantial part of the market would start migrating to printed electronics.

But despite the projected exponential growth, there will likely be no massive shift from conventional to printed electronics. The two are seen to cater to different market segments.

From the perspective of the electronics industry, especially on segments that need complicated applications, printed electronics may still be years away from commercialization. In some cases, especially from the printing sector’s perspective, applications are near term.

Printed electronics are now used in electronic displays and signage. An exhibitor at GlobalTronics, Hisaka Singapore Pte. Ltd, is making commercially available in the second quarter of next year its product using printed electronics—a portable blood warmer (PBW) system.

Printed electronics, in this case, are used as heating sticker in the PBW system which keeps blood at the desired temperature of 38 (degrees centigrade) for transfusion. The system is portable and simpler to operate, so it can be brought to and used in areas outside hospitals, especially in times of emergency.

The PBW system using printed electronics are also less costly at $2,000, compared to the cost of the conventional blood warmer systems that ranges from $8,000 to $20,000.

The most immediate applications for printed electronics concern RFID (radio frequency identification); OLED (organic light emitting diodes) displays made of organic thin film transistor technology; smart labels and intelligent packaging, which present a huge market potential; memory, logic and sensors, and photovoltaics (PV).

PV modules are seen being used more in batteries, solar cells, fuel cells, super capacitors and other power generating devices in the near future. Printed electronics are expected to help lower the cost of PV devices and make them easier to install and handle given the flexibility of the technology.

With the potentials of printed electronics becoming more apparent, proponents have been busy exploring all possible applications that can make use of this technology.

For instance, the government of Singapore, through the Economic Development Board and Ministry of Trade and Industry attached agency SPRING Singapore, are all out in providing financial and technical assistance for enterprises that are developing various applications for printed electronics. It believes in the potential of printed electronics as a tool in further developing enterprises, particularly the smaller businesses.

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