Printed Electronics in 2012: The Year in Review

In recent years, the printed electronics (PE) industry has made gains in a wide range of disciplines, from components, materials and equipment to research that have the potential to open up new opportunities. Each year, industry conferences host speakers from major corporations who discuss possible end uses for printed electronic systems.

However, there has been a relative lack of products breaking the commercial threshold and actually hitting the market. The good news is that the PE industry is now gaining traction in the market, with products receiving notice. Once companies see how competitors are using PE to their benefit, even more opportunities will arise.

A whole new series of products has emerged, which I will cover next week in a review of the most promising developments in PE for 2012. However, now is an ideal time to look back at 2012’s major developments, and what might be in store as 2013 nears.

Perhaps the biggest news that has come out in 2012 is the commercial partnership between Thin Film Electronics (Thinfilm) and Bemis, one of the largest packaging companies in the world. By 2014, Bemis plans on utilizing Thinfilm’s Intelligent Packaging Platform to develop a flexible sensing platform for the packaging market, 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.

Thinfilm works closely with PARC on its printed memory systems, and in order to meet Bemis’s needs, Thin Film has built an ecosystem with Imprint Energy, Acreo AB, PST Sensors, Polyera, Solvay and Inktec. This project has the potential to be huge.

PragmatIC Printing is another PE specialist, working in the field of imprinted logic circuits. PragmatIC has its own ecosystem, working with the Centre for Process Innovation (CPI), Enfucell and Printed Electronics Limited, and is developing a project with Illinois Tool Works (ITW). 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

T-Ink is a major PE innovator, moving from novelty products years ago to a wide range of projects, headlined by its development of printed capacitive switches to replace overhead control panels on the Ford Fusion.

Printechnologics, which is partly owned by 3M, has earned much attention for its Touchcode technology, which allows printed smart cards to be read by cell phones. The technology drew a great deal of attention when Touchcode was recognized as Overall Gold Winner in Wall Street Journal’s prestigious 2012 Technology Innovation Awards. Now, T-Ink and Printechnologics will be working together to further that technology.

The past year has seen other changes. There have been continued investments being made in some businesses, while some other companies, notably Konarka and Abound Solar, have gone out of business. The PE industry made its debut at drupa, the major printing trade show, which had an audience of more than 300,000 attendees, many of whom were intrigued by PE’s potential. Meanwhile, major display manufacturers such as Samsung are working closely with PE leaders such as Universal Display and Novaled on new OLED technologies.

Printed electronics are making more headway in the commercial market, and it is likely that more gains will be seen in the coming year.