Print it: solid growth potential for slim substrates

Though I’ve got electronic gadgets galore, there are still times when I look at a smart phone and marvel at the amount of capability jammed into such a lightweight product. Then I scan the newswires and see new technologies that may make these phones seem like the Osborne portable computer, a 20-pound sensation that came with a suitcase-like handle.

Today’s marvel is a recent release that indicates the continuing progress in printed electronics. Oxford Advanced Surfaces Group, working with support from Britain’s Technology Strategy Board, has devised a technique that improves adhesion between the different interfaces in multilayer flexible electronic devices made using a printing process.

This research program is not a huge deal by itself, but it highlights the advances in printed electronics. Printed substrates could eventually become a significant factor in the circuit board industry, becoming a significant niche akin to their bulky predecessor, flexible circuits.

That could happen sooner than many people in this industry might think. The research analysts at NanoMarkets predict that the global market for all printed electronic applications could increase to $10 billion by 2012. Underscoring the rapid growth, demand for just the electronic inks and substrates will surpass that level in four years, hitting $11 billion in 2015.

Whether the advances in England and the predictions of market researchers bear fruit or not, they highlight a trend that seems to be showing steady advances. It’s definitely an area that’s worth monitoring.

Note: IPC will host the first IPC Conference on Printed Electronics on January 18-19, 2011, in Irvine, Calif. Sign up today or learn more at www.ipc.org/printed-electronics.

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