Novalia, Blue Spark Team Up on Interactive PE Projects

By David Savastano

It sometimes seems that the imagination is the limit when it comes to developing ideas for printed electronics (PE) applications.

For Novalia, that is good news, as imagination and creativity are the company’s hallmarks. Founded in 2004 by Dr. Kate Stone, its CEO, the Cambridge, UK-based company specializes in designing concepts using Interactive Printed Media (IPM), all with an eye of creating a connection between the user and the product.

“Printing is the most pervasive form of communications,” Dr. Stone said. “By putting in interactivity, we are creating a two-way dialogue, where the device can react and respond, carry on a dialogue. It significantly enhances the communication you can have.

“I was inspired by a different vision for PE, of taking the printing process out of the cleanroom and bringing it to today’s printer,” Dr. Stone added. “Everything we do is designed to be manufactured. PE takes the cost out of it.”

Novalia works with clients at every phase of IPM product development, from proof of concept and design for manufacturability, right through to prototyping and full-scale production. PE can be easily and affordably integrated into standard manufacturing processes and printed using traditional print processes, such as screen, offset, gravure and flexography.

“We are a small company with a big vision,” Dr. Stone noted. “We have a really good, well rounded team, with a graphic artist, an engineer and myself. We bring together jigsaw pieces and develop concepts. We are skilled at creating demonstrators, combining an element of the technology into our concepts. Our team is exceptionally creative producing prototypes and storyboards to illustrate concepts.

“We hope to go to market over the next six months,” Dr. Stone said. “We will be using existing print processes and technologies, which we will coordinate and bring together, and we will work with specialists in the PE field.”

Dr. Stone said that Novalia has successfully designed concepts that are drawing attention from consumer product groups.

“Companies are receptive,” Dr. Stone said. “The biggest challenge is that everyone gets really excited, and we think it best to get people to commit to simple concepts first.”

The next step was to find the necessary partners to push the concept from vision to reality, beginning with developing a power source.

That’s where Blue Spark Technologies comes in. Blue Spark, a leading supplier of thin, flexible printed battery solutions located in Westlake, OH, USA, recently signed a joint marketing agreement with Novalia to drive the creation and launch of IPM products for the publishing, consumer, packaging, retail and other markets.

Peter Kuzma, vice president of business development for Blue Spark Technologies, said that Novalia’s creativity makes it an ideal partner for Blue Spark.

“Novalia has emerged as a leader and pioneer in interactive printed electronics technology,” said Kuzma. “We at Blue Spark look forward to an exciting and productive marketing partnership that effectively leverages Novalia’s design creativity and printed media expertise with Blue Spark’s extensive experience in engineering, battery-powered electronic design, prototyping and product testing.”

Blue Spark and Novalia’s co-development of Interactive Printed Media products will focus initially on items such as:

• Children’s books.
• Posters for kids and adults.
• Trading cards, novelty games and toys.
• Specialty consumer packaging.
• In-store retail merchandising displays.
• Promotional brochures.
• And potentially other “green” printed electronics products built on a thin, flexible form factor and easily manufactured using traditional printing methods.

“In our world, virtually any printed item can be made interactive, which is why we believe the market potential for Interactive Printed Media is enormous,” Dr. Stone said. “Blue Spark’s disposable printed batteries provide the ideal power source to activate many of these products.”

The need for a flexible power source is critical, and as the product will be disposable, the battery must be environmentally friendly. Dr. Stone said that battery life depends on the application, and when the application is not in use, the battery essentially falls asleep, thus saving power.

“Blue Spark brings the most enabling piece – power with a flexible form factor and disposability,” Dr. Stone said.

“The flexible power supply was needed to optimize the form factor,” added Matthew Ream, Blue Spark Technologies’ vice president of marketing. “If you look at the possibilities – greeting cards, cereal boxes with interactive games, to name two – all of these are printed materials, and they will need a flexible form factor. The greeting cards you see today have a lot of stuff in them, including printed circuits and speakers, and PE and flexible batteries can come into play.

“A few years ago, Russell Stover created a heart-shaped box for its chocolates, using LED lights,” Ream added. “It was a thick, heavy box with lots of wiring. It was expensive to assemble and bulky. By using PE, you could simply print conductive traces.”

Ream said that Novalia’s creativity offers some amazing possibilities.

“Novalia’s forte is mixing creative aspects of IPM with printed electronics, and they showed us some of the existing designs and concepts they had put together,” Ream said. “One of Novalia’s strengths is that they bring creativity to the market, the ability to get people to interact through the use of printing. We have been working with consumer packaging companies, and the more that we looked into these ideas and the extremely creative capabilities Novalia offers, the more possibilities we saw.”

Ream and Dr. Stone both noted that consumer packaging goods manufacturers see PE as a way to get their products in front of customers.

“Every consumer packaging goods company is looking to get that edge, to differentiate themselves for the consumer,” Ream said. “Having an interactive game, sort of like a Where’s Waldo, will lead kids to pull out the cereal box and play with it.

“Novalia is using printed electronics as part of the actual graphics, as well as combining micro processors with touch sensors,” Ream added. “Sensors are important, as interactivity requires input, whether it is touch, humidity, light or other. Novalia has a concept of creating a card with LED lights as candles and a humidity sensor, and when a person blows on the candles, some of the lights will go out. Another example would be a six-pack that lights up when you open the fridge. This requires that the PE be applied during the converting process, and it also has to be disposable and environmentally friendly.”

“We are seeing a difference between attention grab and attention hold. We want to create things that hold your attention,” Dr. Stone said. “In specialty packaging, you can convey so much more. You can have the ability to give the packaging so much more value than just a throwaway.

“For example, we see potential in areas such as children’s books and toys and educational items,” Dr. Stone added. “We developed a demonstrator book, originally a book with LED lights, but we decided to emphasize sound instead. The characters speak to each other and give clues. The next time, it’s a different story; this project has seven different stories and endings. Another project we are designing are interactive children’s bedroom posters.”

Ream and Dr. Stone both believe that PE is going to be a major force in the market in the future.

“The PE market is at its emerging stage,” Ream said. “We are very excited to be working with Novalia, and I believe that we will be coming up with concepts that no one has ever seen before.”
“If you look around now, there are many more printed items than electronic devices. We are adding the interactivity normally associated with electronic products to printed items,” Dr. Stone concluded. “It is going to happen. I have no doubt that in a few years, people will touch something that is printed and be disappointed if it doesn’t react.”