PE Companies are Optimistic About the State of the Industry

By David Savastano

During the past year, the field of printed electronics continued to enjoy growth in spite of the recession, as companies moved forward on some innovative projects and new research at companies and universities offered promising possibilities. Still, the economic downturn did lead to some challenges in terms of funding of some projects.

With the economy seemingly improving somewhat and more applications reaching initial production stages, manufacturers across the PE chain are seeing opportunities ahead. Industry leaders attending Printed Electronics Europe 2010 are optimistic about the future for PE.

“When the global recession hit in Q3 2008, almost all R&D programs around PE-applications were put on hold,” said Marko Hanhikorpi, CEO of Enfucell, Ltd. “From the beginning of 2010, we have started to see some real evidence that projects continue from where they were left off, and also partner companies and technology vendors are starting again their technology assessments and cooperation negotiations. We see increasing activity in demonstrators and pilots, but not yet large commercial projects ramping up.”

“We are seeing major consumer gods companies, security companies, games and toy manufacturers becoming more interested in getting started in PE,” said Simon Jones of Nano ePrint. “We are working with them on developing realistic prototypes that will be compelling for consumers.”

“We are seeing opportunities develop, but I am not sure that I can say that it is attributable to the economy,” said Greg Jablonski, president of PChem Associates, Inc. “For us, the adoption of our new technology that provides new capabilities in terms of new product development is more of a driver for the growth that we see. Of course it doesn’t hurt that one of the major attributes for us is a huge potential cost savings.”

“From our perspective, organizations continue to see printed electronics technologies as a source of enabling technology for applications ranging from energy generation and storage to consumer-level sensors and displays,” said Stan Farnsworth, vice president of marketing for NovaCentrix. “The development cycle to take technologies all the way to marketed products is lengthy, both due to economic considerations, but also because in many cases the printed electronics technologies being incorporated are still new. New technologies being used in new products is a recipe for an extended commercialization program. None the less, many groups have been moving forward for some time, and I think in 2010 and 2011, if our customers continue to move forward, we will see a variety of new products on the market enabled by printed electronics technologies.”

“CPFilms is seeing tremendous growth in PE applications, most significantly in flexible displays, including e-Readers,” said Douglas Goldstein, business director, electronic displays for CPFilms Inc. “E-Readers utilize several coated polyester film components, including ITO, silicone release, optically clear pressure sensitive adhesives, barrier and low tack protective masking films. In the nascent flexible thin film PV market, including organic, CIGS and DSSC, growth is just beginning to take off for products utilizing low resistance conductive films, UV absorbing and barrier films. Other specialty applications using coated films such as printed batteries, flexible LED lighting, and electronic display diffuser films are also demonstrating significant promise.”

“I think the printed electronics business is getting up to speed again, but I think also in last year, there was no crisis in this business, specifically in government funded R&D of universities or institutes,” said Thomas Kolbusch, vice president of Coatema Coating Machinery. “So from this standpoint, we had a real boom in equipment for printed electronics in 2009. Coatema delivered several units for the encapsulation of OLEDs, basically all of them for OLED lightning. This is an area of market which definitely gets momentum. Flexible OPV was another big topic of our activities and is also in 2010. What we will see in my opinion are more and more integrated systems, e.g. polymer solar cells combined with printed batteries, and this device is combined with a printed sensor.”

Udo Dittmar, president of Daetwyler R&D, said that while he has yet to see a major product printed at an economic price, he is starting to see some gains being made and interest growing in the potential for gravure printing for PE applications.

“There has been a good start,” Dittmar said. “We are using our manufacturing knowledge in gravure machines to develop lab presses.”

Dr. Kevin McAloon, director of business development at PETEC, said that there are opportunities that exist now in fields such as displays, solid state lighting and organic photovoltaics, but thee are still issues with processes such as roll-to-roll.

“When you think about printing materials on large areas, there can be issues of reliability,” Dr. McAloon noted. “A lot of work is going on. It requires cooperation between material manufacturers, substrate suppliers, device and tool manufacturers and OEMs. Some applications will be ready before others, and the challenges will eventually be overcome.”

David Ramahi, president and CEO of Optomec, noted that his company has sold more than 100 systems to date, mostly for process development as a precursor for going into pre-production, and he added that he sees companies now moving forward into production.

“We are starting to see our customers transition into high-volume production, particularly in solar, touch screen and semiconductor packaging for smart phones,” Ramahi said.