The conference opened with the Plenary Session. LOPEC general chair Wolfgang Mildner, founder and CEO of mswTech, told attendees that business continues to grow, and LOPEC is expanding with it.
“After a lot of research and development and a lot of feedback from customers, we see business taking off,” Mildner observed. “We think mobility and wellbeing have the most activities right now. We also see this in the exhibition hall. Sometimes printed electronics is invisible and we have to tell people it is in integrated into our products, to allow this seamless integration. We have exhibitors out of the hall for the first time for the first time – this shows our growth. We have the largest exhibition in terms of size and number of exhibitors. We also have the largest number of papers.”
Dr. Erhard Barho, head of functional surface solutions, Continental’s Benecke-Hornschuch Surface Group, brought the automotive side into focus with his talk, “Smart Surfaces Beyond Rubber: The Fusion of Printed Electronics and Mature Technologies Create New Value Propositions to Customers in Various Product Segments.”
“There is an explosion of vehicle features and increased personalization requirements,” Dr. Barho noted. “Design is augmented by HMI (human machine interface), and we see automated driving and further electrification. Everything needs a button – cars are loaded with functionality. We have smart surfaces, printed heating, extended curved displays.
“Printed electronics are a key enabler,” Dr. Barho added. “Possible applications include sensors in tires, sensors for passenger movement, integrated strain sensors, and we already have done stretch and movement samples, pressure sensors and heating elements, touchpads, and printed EL displays. We see other possible applications, such as smart tags and temperature sensors. Doors have lots of functionality, with wire harnesses, temperature sensors, instrument clusters, light integration, and opening functions.”
Sebastien Chaumiole, electronics leader, IBM, was up next with “Printed Electronics and AI - Foundation for an Enhanced Connected Life Experience.” Chaumiole said that printed electronics has a role to play in the field of AI.
“Connected life has come from the developments in mobile,” added Chaumiole. “There are more advanced wearables and the IoT. High quality healthcare is provided through wearables and contextual patient model and will improve health care. Printed electronics and AI will personalize further the connected life and deliver value.
Dr. Kerry Adams, market segment manager, DuPont Photovoltaic and Advanced Materials, has been in the printed electronics field for 22 years, and he presented a look at the past, present and future in his talk, “Stretching the Boundaries of Printed Electronics.”
He noted that DuPont was screen printing silver in 1948, and by 1961, DuPont was selling screen printed resistors. In 1984, the company developed Solamet PV metallization for solar cells, and worked on printed biosensors for blood glucose test strips in 1995 and Heatel printed heaters in 1998. Most recently, smart textiles, stretchable inks for wearables and in mold electronics have come to market.
“Entering new markets requires engagement, partnerships and new routes to market,” Dr. Adams observed. “In-mold electronics are up to 70% lighter, and offer design freedom, quicker assembly, and are highly touch sensitive. Screen printed graphics and functional inks are thermoformed and injection molded. We are integrating functionalities into and onto building materials – smart walls, floors – energy harvesting, speakers, heating, and lighting.
“I genuinely believe this is an exciting time for PE,” Dr. Adams said. “Technology has caught up with people’s imagination and ideas. I think we are just on the cusp of it, and it is really happening.”
The Technical and Science conferences featured a variety of interesting talks ranging from applications to research. For example, TactoTek Group CTO Dr. Antti Keränen spoke on “Designing and Making Parts Using Injection Molded Structural Electronics (IMSE).”
“We are doing lighting, surfaces and sensors,” Keränen noted. “We are doing rigid and flexible designs. Encapsulated circuitry and electronics deliver design freedom and durability. For an overhead control panel, it was 64 parts plus PCBA, 45 mm thick and weighed 650 grans. With IMSE, it is one molded part plus a small PCBA, weighs 150 grams and is 3mm thick. Decorative parts such as vehicle door trim and cover panels must be thin and feature-rich in functionality.”
Chris Richardson, director business development, Cambridge Display Technology Ltd., presented a talk on “Progress on Printable Thermoelectrics.” He reported that CDT is
working on organic photodiodes (OPD), biosensors and energy harvesting, inaddiion to its display portfolio.
“What is really interesting is where the technology can go from here,” Richardson added. “Printed thermoelectric modules enable low cost fabrication; the module area can be easily scaled up. Application areas include smart buildings, residential, transport and industry. One example includes a battery-free wireless sensor mounted on a pipe for use in HVAC.”
Dr. Susanne Oertel, scientist, Fraunhofer Institute for Integrated Systems and Device Technology, IISB, talked about screenprinted biosensors for soil testing in her talk on “Smart Agricultural Sensor Network for Soil Monitoring.”
“We have collected a lot of soil samples and we have determined the concentration of nitrates,” Dr. Oertel reported. “In five minutes, we have the same results to the photometric gold standard, which takes 24 hours.”
Douglas Hackler, president and CEO, American Semiconductor, Inc., followed with his presentation on “Automated High-Volume FHE Flip-Chip Assembly.” Hackler discussed the latest advances in Semiconductor on Chip (SoP) Chip Scale Packaging (CSP) technology.
“SoC CSP is ultra-thin and flexible,” Hackler noted. “SoC is a wafer-level process that results in ultra-thin ICs with semiconductor materials that are less that the thickness possible with bare die. As systems become thinner, thin die and flexibility become important. We are pushing electronics into places never before possible.
Kyle Homan, Aerosol Jet applications engineer, Optomec, discussed “Aerosol Jet Printing of Film Heaters in 3D.” Homan noted that different metals were used to test the application; copper and copper-nickel inks broke down due to increasing temperatures, leading to oxidation and a loss of conductivity.
By contrast, silver breaks down at higher temperatures, but silver oxide is still conductive. Gold works best as it doesn’t oxidize, and doesn’t require overcoat passivation layers, but cost is an issue.
“Printing heater circuits directly on non-planar surfaces is expected to cost considerably less that traditional heater attachment,” Homan said. “Through direct heating of conformal heaters, the object’s temperature uniformity of heat zone control is improved while eliminating manual assembly with adhesive layers. We are able to print 3D on automotive headlamps for deicing and defogging using a silver nanoparticle ink with an opaque coating.”
Structural Electronics Panel
In addition, there was a Structural Electronics Panel, moderated by Dan Rogers of Smithers Pira and featuring four industry experts: Dragana Milosavljevic, hardware development engineer, electronic and infotainment, MAN Truck and Bus; Dr. Martin Hedges, managing director, Neotech AMT; Wolfgang Clemens, head of product management, PolyIC; and Dr. Ingo Kriebitzsch, professor at the Institute for Factory Automation and Production, Friedrich Alexander University. Each of the panelist brought a unique perspective to the audience.
One point that all of the panelists agreed on is that automobile manufacturers don’t rush out to try new technologies.
“The automotive industry is the toughest one,” Dr. Kriebitzsch noted. “It is not a good idea to start a new technology. It is better to try new technology in other areas.”
“We are in mass production in consumer goods, which is a natural approach,” said Clemens. “It is our experience that it takes at least six years for a new technology to enter into the automotive market. Automotive wants to be innovative – but they want to be second. Do it step by step, make it evolutionary.”
“Our customers don’t expect high technology,” Milosavljevic concluded. “They have to be reliable and safe.”
“My advice is to keep it simple and find out what your technology can do well,” Dr. Hedges said. “We are seeing more pull from end users.”
Clemens said that everything will be connected and decorated.
“The display will be a complete panel,” Clemens said. “Today it is rigid electronics – glass and circuit board, and a frame and a hole. Plastic must have a touch sensor and a resistive surface. All of these parts are becoming more and more 3D.”
“Structural electronics is a technology for mass production, which is ideal for the automotive industry,” Dr. Kriebitzsch said. “There are a lot of interior applications that practically cry for electronic integration, as long as the cost is right.”
Dr. Hedges noted that structural electronics integrates additional functionality into a structure. “It allows you the freedom to create new designs and functionalities,” he added. “You can reduce the number of materials and save money, and there is an environmental aspect of removing a PCB and put a circuit directly onto a molded component. Wire harnesses are heavy and there are cost issues. The inside of a car door is literally hundreds of parts – you can print a circuit directly onto the panel, then build up the capabilities step by step.”
Milosavljevic noted that the automotive market is moving rapidly in the direction of electronic mobility, driver safety such as driver assistance systems, and digitalization.
“There are opportunities for 3D electronics in electronic mobility,” Milosavljevic noted. “Heating for battery systems are an example. The number of smart sensors is increasing, especially for self-driving trucks and buses, and they are either inside or outside the cabin. Printed sensors for heaters are an opportunity. Right now, all surfaces are mechanical, and maybe we can make smart surfaces.”