A Look at Printed Electronics: Printed Electronics Now Interview with Peter Slikkerveer

The field of printed electronics is clearly evolving, and it is interesting to hear the perspective of people who have long been involved in the field. From time to time, Printed Electronics Now is going to interview some of the leaders in the field, and present their viewpoints.

This week, we spoke with Peter Slikkerveer of MpicoSys Solutions B.V., which is part of MpicoSys Embedded Pico Systems Sp. z o.o. Headquartered in Gdynia, Poland, MpicoSys integrates miniature electronic systems, where it is the link between component suppliers and the product customer. Its experienced multi-disciplinary team extends from analog electronics, hardware, firmware, materials science and production engineering. and can assist non-standard technologies in bringing them from prototype phase to production.

Printed Electronics Now: What is your background in the field of PE?

Peter Slikkerveer: My mechanical engineering – material science background is from my 17 years at Philips Research Laboratories Eindhoven, The Netherlands, where I was involved in research ing industrial manufacturing processes like injection molding, coating and printing processes, and later in flexible displays. At the time, Philips Research was heavily involved in all kinds of flexible electronic technologies and flexible displays.

Printed Electronics Now: How has the printed electronics (PE) industry changed since you first joined the field?

Peter Slikkerveer: Much and a little. The materials have improved enormously, giving better performance and better lifetime. You can say that some materials have become "mature" or close to. The concepts on how to use printed electronics, unfortunately, has changed little over the last 10 years, and much is still wishful thinking.

Printed Electronics Now: What are the key advancements that have allowed for these changes to occur?

Peter Slikkerveer: The material improvements are – without doubt – resulting from the huge R&D activities at universities, institutes and materials companies. Some of the production processes (like inkjet printing) have seen a significant improvement.

Printed Electronics Now: What are the technical hurdles that need to be overcome to move PE forward?

Peter Slikkerveer: I am not sure there is a technical hurdle - the biggest hurdle is the commercial one. The main issue in my view is that most activities are still centered around universities, institutes and materials companies. There are no product companies and only a few component companies.

For the production technologies, the views are often not realistic, with the same buzzwords popping-up as they did 10 years ago – like roll-to-roll and direct (digital) printing of patterns. We have found that for many applications, these production technologies are not adequatem, either by the production volume not fitting the product volume (“normal" R2R is minimal 2m2/min non-stop, which equals to 1Mm2year); the setup cost (R2R requires a huge startup material cost, which is why R2R should run non-stop); and cost of yield (an error in reproducing a pattern will lead to a faulty product).

On the product side, it appears hard to find a "sweet spot" for PE, a place where the final customer wants to pay the extra money that will be needed to get PE products off of the ground.
PE is "competing" with normal electronics that are very cheap (also because of the huge volume)...

Printed Electronics Now: Where do you see the field of printed electronics heading in both the near term and, say, 10 years from now?

Peter Slikkerveer: Ideally, PE should find a niche where the usage of PE allows companies to create new products which are not possible with existing materials. These products should fulfill a latent need of the final users such that they want to pay the extra money for it. This is easier said then done.

More generically, PE should concentrate on very simple products with use a large area of OPE materials, and stay away from complex products where standard electronics will beat them.

Lastly, PE should get rid of the PE label, the PE or not-PE schism, and start providing materials and processes that replace materials in existing products, rather then trying to create full PE products. At the end, the customer will not care what materials are in the product they buy... so I hope in the long run that the PE materials and processes will integrate in the worldwide base of technologies for creating products.