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Thinfilm, Acreo and Imprint Energy are Building Out a PE Ecosystem

By David Savastano, Editor | March 14, 2012

The importance of developing partnerships within the printed electronics field is essential. It is one thing to have a chip, a display or a battery, but creating an ecosystem in which companies share their particular expertise to form a working product is critical.

Photo courtesy of Thin Film Electronics
With an eye on developing complete systems utilizing its Thinfilm Memory Everywhere technology, Thin Film Electronics ASA is teaming with a wide range of companies to form such an ecosystem.

Thinfilm’s ecosystem of partners includes both material suppliers, manufacturing partners, and technology companies supplying components that can be integrated into the Thinfilm system platform. By combining rewritable printed memory with printed organic transistor logic, Thinfilm has developed an extendable platform that enables the creation of fully integrated printed systems. Partners also include materials companies Polyera and Solvay, manufacturing partner Inktec, and the new addition of technology partners Acreo and Imprint Energy. PST Sensors is also a component partner.

By utilizing Acreo’s expertise on printed displays with printed batteries from Imprint Energy, Thinfilm is seeking to develop low cost, flexible temperature sensors and price displays that will have the capability to store data, which woud be a huge advantage to brand owners, retailers and consumers alike.

“What is exceptional about both Acreo and Imprint Energy is that their technology solutions also imbue the same cost per functionality advantage that Thinfilm memory represents,” said Dr. Davor Sutija, CEO of Thin Film Electronics. “Acreo is able to produce segmented vertical electrochromic displays for a cost to the customer of 1 U.S. cent per cm2. Imprint Energy is equally revolutionary. They are bringing down the cost of printed power by 10x compared to other thinfilm batteries.

Photo courtesy of Thin Film Electronics
“Together, we are seeing opportunities for compact battery power for temperature sensor and disposable price display applications,” Dr. Sutija added. “The key is the combination of these components with Thinfilm memory, so as to store data from the sensors and allow for display on user command, minimizing the energy budget required.”

“So far, most of the actors within the industry have focused on development of components” said Leif Ljungqvist, Acreo’s vice president and manager, printed electronics. “There have been few attempts to put together integrated systems. The only possibility to create the advantages expected by the technology is to being able to print all components (inline). Key to the ecosystem that we now are establishing is our technologies and capabilities.”

Acreo is an ideal choice for Thinfilm’s ecosystem. Owned by Swedish ICT Research AB, Acreo AB is a leading independent non-profit research institute, with 145 employees working in the areas of nanoelectronics, printed electronics, fiber optics and broadband technology. In the Printed Electronics Arena (PEA), Acreo is primarily focusing on packaging and printed matter, health care such as biosensors, and the Internet of Things.

In addition to its research expertise, Acreo develops prototypes and has small scale production of components and integrated systems in its printing facility, located in Norrköping Science Park. Acreo provides state-of-the-art equipment and resources across the printing spectrum, including inkjet, flexo, screen, gravure and a dry process for patterning laminates like Al on PET.

“Acreo is well known in the area of printed electronics and has been working with research and development of electro chemical components for more than 10 years,” said Ljungqvist. “Presently Acreo focuses on integration of printed electronics components into working system. We also do hybrid integration of conventional and printed electronics components. Our contribution to the cooperation is our electrochromic (EC) display technology and transistors and also our knowledge of integration.”

Photo courtesy of Imprint Energy
Imprint Energy is a spin out from the University of California, Berkeley, commercializing a breakthrough low cost, flexible, rechargeable battery technology. Imprint aims to provide batteries with lithium-like performance at significantly lower costs and without form factor limitations or safety concerns. Imprint is co-owner and exclusive licensee of its fundamental high conductivity polymer electrolyte intellectual property and has recently opened R&D, prototyping and test facilities in Alameda, CA, which will be the center for battery development for this project.

“Many of Thinfilm's applications will require an integrated thin power source,” Dr. Devin MacKenzie, Imprint Energy’s CEO, said. “Imprint Energy has a safe, high capacity, rechargeable, thin, low cost, flexible battery technology. The batteries can be printed in customizable, thin formats and are based on earth-abundant materials that are inherently air-stable and safe with minimal packaging.”

Dr. MacKenzie sees opportunities from this partnership, ranging from near-term products and revenue to new applications and markets enabled by low cost, thin form factor energy sources and the scaled manufacturing of printed energy storage.

Ultimately, by combining these low cost solutions that will provide functionality at the same price point as present systems, Thinfiilm will be able to reach out to markets as diverse as pharma and logistics.

Photo courtesy of Thin Film Electronics
“The key is cost per functionality,” Dr. Sutija noted. “There are existing markets where conventional electronics are just too expensive or do not meet flexibility and ubiquity needs. For example, there are pharma and logistics applications that still use 20-year-old chemistries in color-change labels for time-temperature tracking. The integrated temperature sensor we are currently designing with our customers will provide quantitative actionable information at the same price point as these qualitative technologies, and potentially at a lower cost as well. Currently, up to 1 billion such tags are used at price points from 10 U.S. cents to 40 U.S. cents, and we believe that we can successfully compete in this market.”

Dr. Sutija sees excellent opportunities ahead for both Thinfilm and printed electronics in general. Along with PARC, a Xerox Company, Thinfilm received the FLEXI Innovation Award from the FlexTech Alliance for its working prototype of the world’s first printed, rewritable memory addressed with complimentary organic circuits, which combined Thin Film Electronic’s polymer-based memory technology with PARC’s transistor technology. Along with its manufacturing partner, Inktec, Thinfilm is prepared to launch more products into the market this year.

The market appears to agree that Thinfilm is on the right track. The board of directors of Thinfilm just resolved and accomplished a private placement of 25,000,000 new shares in the company at a price of NOK 1.80 per share, thereby raising NOK 45 million in new capital.

“Thinfilm has doubled in size recently, and that is only the start,” Dr. Sutija said. “There is much to do, to build on the announcement of the Addressable Array Memory last October. This combination of memory and logic provides a platform on which to build integrated systems, such as the one described above. We were pleased that Flextech Alliance honored us and PARC with their 2012 Innovation award, one of the most important in our industry.”

“To continue, we expect to prototype integrated systems by the end of this year, have recently had the first public application of our 20-bit Thinfilm memory at the Exploratorium in San Francisco, and are working closely to launch other commercial passive array and 20-bit products including in the toys and games market the coming year, together with our manufacturing partner Inktec.” Dr. Sutija added.

“By 2020, we believe that we will be participating in a set of markets whose total size will be $25 billion to $35 billion, both including substantial existing markets and ones opened up by Thinfilm Memory systems unique cost/functionality value proposition,” Dr. Sutija concluded.