Printed electronics efforts grow in the background

There are big time predictions for printed electronics, a technology that’s been a technology of tomorrow for a fair while. Though there have been plenty of “next big thing” flops in electronics, it doesn’t seem smart to bet against this one.

Any time pundits start saying that a new technology is going to revamp the electronics world, I remember the hoopla that surrounded bubble memory when I started in this industry. Or personal digital assistants and their new script input a couple decades back. If you want to find those technologies, a key search word might be “flop.”

That doesn’t seem to be the case for printed electronics, where there’s plenty of activity that looks solid. It may take a while to see solar cells printed on drapes and medical components printed on paper or plastic, but the infrastructure is growing.

PARC, the famed Xerox Company, recently teamed up with Thin Film Electronics ASA to develop physical prototypes of fully-printed temperature sensors. Stratasys and Optomec Inc. recently completed a joint development project that merges printed electronics with 3D printing, an additive process that’s transforming many segments of mechanical manufacturing.

Blue Spark, which makes flexible battery technologies, has teamed up with EM Microelectronic and IDS Microchip to develop time-and-temperature monitoring and data logging solutions based on battery-assisted passive RFID technology that uses printed electronics. In another interesting development, GE Medical and others are making disposable blood glucose sensors based on printed electronics the de facto standard in controlling diabetes.

IPC has stepped in to help speed this evolution. The IPC Printed Electronics Management Council Steering Committee will help develop educational programs to support the printed electronics industry. Standards groups are also working to help provide structure.

When there’s this much activity across many fields, it would be difficult to predict anything but blue skies for the long-term future of printed electronics. The timeframe remains uncertain, but companies that don’t factor printed electronics into their plans will do so at their own peril.

For more information on IPC printed electronics standards development, contact Marc Carter, IPC director of technology transfer, at or +1 847-597-2826.

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