Most Intriguing Printed Electronics Products of 2012

Last week, I wrote about the progress that the printed electronics (PE) industry is seeing. Much of the interest is being driven by new products that are reaching the commercial stage. Once a product reaches the market, other companies notice, and if the product does have benefits, it will be imitated.

It set me to thinking about which printed electronics products are really game-changers. I’ve come up with a list of five of the most intriguing products that have come to the market during the past year; these products have been in development for years, but I will use their commercial appearance as my criteria. This is by no means a comprehensive list, and I would be delighted to hear of other products of note!

In no particular order:

• T-Ink - T-Ink Smart Surface 3D In-mold Overhead Console

Arguably the leading PE innovator, T-Ink has built up an impressive range of projects during the past 10 years. The company has developed more than 2,000 ink formulations for PE projects, and its design team has come up with a vast array of products that have reached the market. T-Ink has major projects in the pipeline, ranging from automotive and white goods to displays, textiles and security applications.

The T-Ink Smart Surface 3D In-mold Overhead Console, featuring screen printed capacitive switches, is perhaps the most interesting development. Recently launched in the 2013 Ford Fusion, the console is printed on the B-side, and requires 14 layers. It is printed flat and then formed, trimmed and molded. The console is two inches thinner, lighter and less expensive that the previous approach, and the compnay has already produced more than a million of these consoles. As a result, T-Ink received this year’s Best Commercialization Award at IDTechEx’s Printed Electronics USA 2012 conference recently.

• Thin Film Electronics - Intelligent Packaging Platform

Sensors are quickly becoming one of the best potential uses for printed electronics (PE), as the combination of flexible form factors, functionality and cost are indeed intriguing. Thus, the news that Bemis Company, a leading supplier of flexible packaging and pressure sensitive materials with sales of $5.3 billion in 2011, and Thin Film Electronics ASA (Thinfilm) are working together on Thinfilm’s Intelligent Packaging Platform to develop a flexible sensing platform for the packaging market makes a lot of sense.

Thegoal is to create a new category of packaging that can collect and wirelessly communicate information such as important physical properties and environmental data in packaged perishable products. In addition to partnering with PARC on development of printed logic, Thinfilm has announced technology partnerships with a number of key PE companies, including Acreo, Imprint Energy, Inktec, Polyera, PST Sensors and Solvay to develop integrated printed systems, such as an inexpensive, integrated time-temperature sensor for use in monitoring perishable goods and pharmaceuticals.

This type of sensor would be utilized by industries ranging from food and consumer products to healthcare. The Bemis Intelligent Packaging Platform is expected to be commercially available in 2014. In recognitionof its achievements, The World Technology Network selected Thinfilm as the winner of the prestigious 2012 World Technology Award for Materials, and the company also received honorable mention from the Wall Street Journal’s Technology Innovation Awards.

• Printechnologics - Touchcode

Earning the Gold Winner award from the Wall Street Journal’s Technology Innovation Awards is an extremely prestigious honor. This year, the Gold Winner was Printechnologics for its Touchcode technology. Touchcode also rceived the Wireless category for enabling a seamless connection between off- and online content.

Touchcode is one of the largest success stories in the field of printed electronics. Touchcode is an invisible data tag which can be printed by offset on nearly any surface – including paper, carton or foil – and establishes a link between online and offline communications. Printechnologics has surpassed 25 million Touchcodes in the market, and anticipated reaching 100 million in 2012.

Among the notable companies to use Touchcode are ICON, iSupergol and Nukotoys. Now, the compnay has joined forces with T-Ink on its TouchPac joint venture, which should further accelerate Touchcode’s growth.

• Cambrios Technologies: ClearOhm coating material

Cambrios’ ClearOhm coating material is ideal for replacing ITO (indium tin oxide) for producing transparent conductors. ITO is brittle and requires high temperature to get conductivity, which makes it incompatible with flexible and plastic substrates, and it is expensive, as it has to be manufactured using vacuum deposition, which has limited throughput. ClearOhm is manufactured using highly conductive silver nanowires, and is presently produced through slot die coating; the company is developing gravure capabilities.

ClearOhm is already in use in commercial touch screens, including the LG V325, a new Windows 8-certified All-in-One PC. The industry is taking notice: Cambrios recently received the 2012 IDTechEx Printed Electronics Award for Product Development.

• Kovio - !FaST Tags

Electronic Article Surveillance (EAS)  devices are a necessary inconvenience for retailers in order to reduce theft., but consumers don’t like bulky “hard tag” plastic attachments that can also damage the goods,. The thin and light “soft tags” often send signals even after being deactivated. To eliminate these problems, Kovio has developed !FaST, its new EAS tag system based on Kovio’s EASD technology, which has been unveiled by Nedap Retail, a European specialist in anti-theft systems.

Utilizing silicon-based ink, !FaST tags are coated, screen or inkjet printed on stainless steel substrates and embedded into clothing, shoes and other products. Roll-out of the !FaST system, which could ultimately reach billions of tags, will begin shortly.