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IDTechEx Live! 2017 Highlights Progress in Flexible and Printed Electronics

By David Savastano, Editor | 11.15.17

Commercial successes in key markets such as sensors, wearables are fueling growing optimism.

Setting new records for attendance and exhibitors, IDTechEx Live! 2017 opened up its two-day conference Nov. 15 at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
Organized by IDTechEx, the conference offers eight co-located concurrent programs this year, including 3D Printing, Energy Harvesting, Energy Storage Innovations, Graphene, Internet of Things (IoT) Applications, Printed Electronics, Sensors, and Wearables. 
“IDTechEx has 3,500 attendees from 44 countries, and 270 presentations with 253 exhibitors,” said IDTechEx CEO Raghu Das during his opening remarks. “Last year we had 200 exhibitors. There’s lots to see and get your hands on.”
Das spoke about some of the growing areas of interest at the conference.  
“Aerospace is the biggest market for 3D printing and has a 34% AGR,” Das noted. “Bioprinting has a 45% CAGR, and will reach $1.8 billion by 2027. Printed, flexible and organic electroncis had $29.3 billion in sales in 2017, with 73% in OLED displays, which are not printed yet, and another 21% in sensors, and 5% in conductive inks.
“Companies have invested $12 billion in hybrid electronics in the last 18 months, mostly in OLED,” Das continued. “By 2027, 63% will be predominantly printed. We think that environmental gas sensors will be a $3 billion market by 2027. The holy grail for medical is providing diagnostics in a disposable manner at home. There is a tremendous amount going on in the IoT, from Smart Cities, Industry 4.0, Smart Homes, RFID item tagging. There were 18 billion RFID tags sold in 2017. Wearables – smart clothing and footwear will see a 53% CAGR from 2017-2022. It’s exciting how all of these technologies interact”.
Julia Landauer, owner of Julia Landauer Racing, opened the Cornerstone session with “The Clash of Silicon Valley and Racing,” a look at how modern technology can fit into NASCAR, including wearables, virtual reality and autonomous driving. Landauer added that wearables offer interesting opportunities.
“Biometrics and wearables are allowing us to measure driver’s heart rate and performance,” Landauer said. “However, our car culture has changed with large urban centers and car sharing. Lots of people don’t get driver’s licenses, there’s lots of traffic and environmental concerns.”
Thomas Morel R&D, custom solutions director for JCDecaux, the world’s largest outside advertiser, then analyzed “Applications for Emerging Technologies for Digital Out of Home Media.” He discussed the expansion of LED billboards, solar power and the rise of digital technologies.
“In 2009, we had 5,000 LED advertising billboards,” Morel noted. “Today we have 53,940. We have 2,00 bus shelters in London using solar power, reducing power consumption by 35%.”
He also compared digital and paper billboards, noting that paper will not be going away any time soon.
“Compared to paper, digital billboards require more maintenance, have power needs, have direct sunlight visibility issues,” Morel observed. “Paper will be here a long time, as it offers a low CAPEX, rich color, simple maintenance, low to no power consumption, variable sizes and formats, excellent visibility in sunlight and is easy to replace due to vandalism.”
JCDecaux sees digital as the future, and is looking for new technologies.
“We are looking for free form displays, flexible solar panels, smaller more efficient batteries, energy harvesting, embedded sensors for environmental, audience and traffic measurement and interactivity with mobile phones,” Morel concluded.
Sebastien Ouchouche, principal engineer for Galvani Bioelectronics, then covered “Bioelectronic Medicine.”
“Close to two billion people suffer from chronic diseases,” he said. “The cost to develop new pharmaceutical drugs now exceeds $2.5 billion, and has more than doubled in the past 11 years. It can take 5,000 to 10,000 molecules to be created to get to one approved drug. We are developing tiny devices that treat disease by changing electric pulses to nerves to and from organs. This allows highly localized treatment, ability to ensure adherence and lower development cost.”
Dr. Carl Dietrich, Terrafugia CTO, closed the Cornerstone session with his talk on “Transportation of the Future Today,” a look at Terrafugia’s prototype flying car, the Transition. Dr. Dietrich said that Terrafugia was just acquired by Geely, which makes Volvos and Lotus, which indicates interest from industry leaders.
“We can disrupt personal mobility,” he added.
“So why don’t we fly more,” Dr. Dietrich asked. “There is a lot of training required, as well as high ownership costs, long door-to-door travel time, and small airplanes are more weather sensitive. Small airports also don’t typically have rental cars at their locations. Transitionrequires much less training, can be flown in bad weather and when the wings are folded up, can be parked in the owner’s garage.”
After this, the IDTechEx Live! Broke up into eight tracks, with numerous presentations of interest. Dr. Guillaume Chansin, senior technology analyst for IDTechEx, offered his analysis of the sensor market during his talk, “Innovations in Sensors and Their Market Potential.”

“Sensors are becoming stretchable and flexible,” Dr. Chansin observed. “The industry has accumulated extensive know-how and is finding end users, with eTextiles as an emerging opportunity. In 2016, 28 companies were working on eTextile inks; this year, there are 58 companies.”
“Printed force sensors are a commercial success, such as Xbox controllers and Microsoft Surface keyboards, and they are becoming flexible,” Dr. Chansin added.”The glucose test strip market is declining as prices come down, but will increase with wearables is the future. The point-of-care diagnostics market is emerging, as are biosensors, whether it is pregnancy tests, infection tests, DNA testing or more. Gas sensors are also an emerging market, as these are becoming lightweight, smaller and low cost. Gas sensors can become ubiquitous.”
Daniel Strohmayr, founder and co-CEO of Tacterion GmbH, followed with “Industrial Internet of Things: The Impact of Emerging Flexible and Stretchable Technologies.”

“Stretchable sensors are further accelerating the development of then IoT, as well as offering new opportunities for Human Machine Interfaces (HMI),” said Strohmayr.
The IoT was the topic for Ed Abrams, VP of enterprise IoT at Samsung Electronics.
“In 2017, there were 9.2 billion connected devices,” Abrams said. “By 2020, there will be an estimated 25 billion. There are a tremendous number of sensors that are connected, but data is only useful if it becomes insights given to the consumer at the right point of time. The IoT was originally used as a business process, but now it is becoming key to the customer product side. It is transforming the customer experience. Customers have higher expectations for differentiated experiences.”
Dr. Sebastian Wittmann, research & innovation, OLED R&D for OSRAM OLED GmbH, said the flexible designs are an important part of the future for automotive lighting.

“Substrates are chosen depending on the application, whether it is metal, ultra-thin glass or polymers,” he pointed out. “Our goal is flexible OLEDs. We want to have flexible designs in the next few years, which will offer design freedom while being robust.”
Sundip R. Doshi, chairman and CEO of AerNos Inc., discusses sensors in his presentation, “Nanotechnology Gas Sensors - The Disruptive Technology That Will Change Our Lives Forever.”

“There are challenges with high volume manufacturing of sensors,” Doshi noted. “How do you produce millions of sensors a day, and integrate the electronics?”
Doshi said that AerNos’ gas sensors offer numerous advantages.
“This can be a disrupting gas sensor,” said Doshi. “It offers simultaneous detection of multiple gases, a small size of 10 mm2 and is affordable. It also provides real time data within seconds of exposure, and uses low power.
Enid Kivuti, director- innovation and technology at Multek, a subsidiary of Flextronics, focused on the opportunities for hybrid electronics in her talk on “Hybrid Flexible Electronics Solutions for Smarter, Interconnected Products.”

“Our quest for success includes factors like speed to market, cost of ownership and user experience,” said Kivuti. “People are going to have to want to use what you have.”
“Printed electronics by automated screenprinting allows wide format long circuits, multi-layer orienting with multiple ink types and curing drying and curing regimes,” Kivuti added. “It offers substrate and roll-to-roll assembly options, and can be formable and moldable.
“Through hybrid solutions, we can leverage material technology and printed electronics combined with more than 40 years of flexible circuitry, and that opens design freedom, such as designing all-in-one smart labels with batteries and displays,” she concluded. “We believe in hybrid flexible electronics. Print what you can and place what you must. Overall, we see more printing in the future.”
Dr. Margreet de Kok, senior scientist at Holst Centre, discussed the automotive market during her presentation on “Thermoforming Flexible Printed Electronics for Automotive Applications.”

“Automotive interiors are changing at a rapid pace, from square and flat to organic shapes and materials and analog to digital, while also adding connectivity and autonomous driving as well as new functionalities,” Dr. de Kok observed. “We think flexible electronics are the solution, replacing the wires, printed circuit boards and buttons by screenprinting circuitry.
“We build 2D electronics onto a formable film, thermally shaping it then injection molding,” added Dr. de Kok. “We print with stretchable electronic materials. Printed electronics offers freedom of design, cost reductions, simplified integration, smart surfaces and enhanced functionalities.”
Mike O'Reilly, director, Aerosol Jet Product Management for Optomec, presented numerous examples of success stories of 3D and Aerosol Jet printed sensors during his presentation on “Functionalizing Structures Via Aerosol Jet 3D Printed Electronics.”

“We developed a printed strain sensor for ATVs that detected torque on the drive shaft,” said O’Reilly. “It led to improved drive shaft design. We also developed a leak detector for a pipeline that replaced an ultrasound detector hose clamped onto the pipeline. We printed serialized sensors directly onto the pipeline that provided feedback on corrosion and leaks, which allowed for just-in-time maintenance.”
One of Optomec’s success stories is its printed strain sensors for General Electric’s turbine blades.
“GE would take out the blades every 7500 hours,” O’Reilly noted. “Our sensors detect fatigue and creep. The goal was to reduce maintenance, and since we started producing these sensors three years ago, GE has only had to replace one blade. They believe it has saved them $1 billion.”
TactoTek CTO and co-founder Dr. Antti Keranen discussed his company’s Injection Molded Structural Electronics (IMSE) systems in “Merging Form and Function with Injection Molded Structural Electronics.”

“IMSE combines printed electronics, chip-based electronics in an injected molded structure,” Dr. Keranen noted. “We developed a fully integrated control panel with LED lights, sliders recessed capacitive buttons and more. It is a single component solution. There are opportunities for interior and exterior automotive applications, such as wiring harnesses, smart overhead control panels, center consoles and more, and we can also create natural functional surfaces such as wood veneer, leather and fabric that are highly aesthetic.”
Alpha Szenszor CEO Steve Lerner covered his company’s carbon nanotube-based sensors in his talk “Smart E-Nose Sensors for IoT.”
“We utilize carbon nanotubes for gas sensors,” said Lerner. “Our sensor baseline can be recovered with our refresh mechanism. Our carbon nanotube gas sensors have been called the holy grail of sensor technology. There’s no need to wait 10 years for graphene. We have a 100X reduction in power consumption, and it has high selectivity up to parts per billion. Indoor and outdoor air quality is getting the most attention.”

Attendees check the exhibits during IDTechEx LIVE! 2017