Recent Announcements Show Gains Being Made by PE Industry

There continue to be interesting signs that the printed electronics (PE) market is gaining momentum. New projects are being announced, investments are being made and larger companies are adding to their involvement. In the last month alone, quite a few noteworthy announcements have come forward that show the strides being made by some companies.

The most intriguing announcements came as two major corporations - Bemis and Illinois Tool Works (ITW) announced partnerships with PE manufacturers. Bemis specializes in flexible packaging and pressure sensitive materials, and had sales of $5.3 billion in 2011, while ITW is an $18 billion manufacturer of advanced industrial technology.

Bemis Company and Thin Film Electronics ASA (Thinfilm) announced an agreement to develop a flexible sensing platform that can collect and wirelessly communicate sensor information for the packaging market. The platform, which is expected to be commercially available by 2014, is ideal for use by food, consumer products and healthcare companies.

Thinfilm has developed technology partnerships for inexpensive, integrated time-temperature sensors for use in monitoring perishable goods and pharmaceuticals, and will extend this work to create a customizable sensor platform for Bemis. Henry Theisen, Bemis’ CEO, said that Thinfilm’s technology could potentially make PE part of every package manufactured by Bemis.

Meanwhile, ITW Foils and Thermal Films Group, a group of businesses that are a part of ITW, announced a licensing agreement enabling ITW to develop and sell novel PE solutions utilizing PragmatIC Printing’s imprinted logic circuit technology.

The ITW Foils and Thermal Films Group produce secure, functional and decorative films, coatings and foils products for security, pharmaceutical, architectural, graphics and coding markets. ITW will combine PragmatIC’s printed electronics with decorative and security features to enable fully converted functional solutions across a range of form factors including foils, labels, inlays and packaging.

FlexTech Alliance announced it has completed a project it funded with Polyera Corporation to develop printable n-type organic semiconductors.

Unlike inorganic materials, organic materials can be dissolved into solution, which can then be printed using inkjet, rotogravure and other roll-to-roll printing processes. According to FlexTech Alliance CEO Michael Ciesinski, potential markets include RFID tags, disposable diagnostic devices, rollable and low-cost solar cells and flexible displays.

Novaled, which has made strong headway in the organic light-emitting diode (OLED) field, entered into a licensing and purchase agreement with Samsung Mobile Display (SMD).

A global leader in the display industry, SMD has committed to purchase dopant materials used in the transport layers of its AMOLED display modules from Novaled for several years. Novaled will also provide its proprietary PIN OLED technology to SMD for use in the production of SMD’s AMOLED display modules.

Investments into the technology are another clear sign that PE is becoming more viable. One such example occurred with Peratech, whose Quantum Tunnelling Composite technology, a pressure switching and sensing material technology invented by its chief technology officer David Lussey, is finding potential uses in areas ranging from textiles to touch screens

Peratech just received a £1.2 million ($1.87 million) investment from Finance Yorkshire’s Equity Linked Fund, which will be used to expand its North Yorkshire operations, build new laboratory facilities and secure new contracts.

Doug Balderston, Peratech’s chief financial and operations officer, said the investment will allow Peratech to grow its customer base and increase the value of the business to in excess of £100 million ($150 million) in the next three to five years.

Also in the UK, The Centre for Process Innovation (CPI) completed the installation of its £2 million ($3.1 million) Integrated Smart Systems facility in Sedgefield. The ISS line includes a £1.5m Nilpeter press, and has the capability to handle multiple printing techniques on to backing such as paper, card, films and foil with thickness ranging from 25-370 microns.

3M has been active in a number of related PE markets, and in June 2012, announced that it entered into an agreement to acquire Federal Signal Technologies Group (FSTech) from Federal Signal for $110 million in cash. FSTech’s core industries are electronic toll collection, a $3 billion industry, and parking management hardware and software services, including Sirit, an RFID specialist. The acquisition has some clear synergies within 3M’s Traffic Safety Systems Division.

Overall, these moves show that there is increasing interest and opportunities for printed electronics, and we will likely see more such acquisitions and investments in the coming months.