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FLEXO Magazine : October 2009
www.flexography.org OCTOBER 2009 FLEXO 25 Imagine a pill with edible electronics that talks to the dis- oriented elderly telling them when it is taken and confirming that it is indeed their medication. Perhaps that would make them more disoriented! All these things must be trialed and some will prove a godsend. That follows in the tradition of the billions of Duracell batteries that have been sold with battery testers in the primary packaging for convenience of use. Also in that tradition would be a pack of rice or a pot noodle with a timer in the packaging that you touch to get a beep and a flash when cooking is complete. Brand enhancement indeed! ENERGY HARVESTING Energy harvesting electronics, including printed photovolta- ics (solar cells), will need no battery or only a fleck of bat- tery. Yet these devices will be affordable on mass-produced disposable products. Printed plastic photovoltaics uses one-thousandth of the material of today 's silicon solar cells. It is safely chewable by children and it has no glass to cut you. Indeed, it can be translucent and attractive on packaging and it can be recycled with regular trash. MARKET DRIVERS The rapid growth of brand enhancement by electronics in packaging will be driven by trials now being carried out by leading CPC companies and the rapid technical developments emanating for more than 2250 organizations. Half of these are academic. There will also be growth from existing applications such as winking logos on multi-packs of biscuits. However, the projected adoption, large as it may seem, only represents a few percent of CPC packages and healthcare packages being fitted with these devices in 2020. At that time, only around 1 percent of the global expenditure on packaging will involve e-packaging devices, but growth in applications and usage will rocket thereafter. In the meantime, the prospect of a multi- billion market in only a few years is quite enough to attract considerable investment by putative suppliers. CPC applications will continue to lead the way. The dis- tribution of applications forecasted by IDTechEx for 2015 is given in Figure 1. The other category includes industrial, military etc. These sectors need instructions, warranty records, etc. presented in scrolling text and/or audio on packaging sometimes with a life of 20 years when primary packaging is involved. So far, most e-packaging for brand enhancement has taken the form of primary packaging that makes the product more useful and attractive in the eyes of the consumer. SPECIAL PRINTING MACHINES Many types of printing technology are needed so even one printed component may have its different layers depos- ited by different types of printing machines. Screen printing and ink jet printing are currently most popular but extensive modification to a printing machine is usually required if it is to perform its electronic task well enough. Even the paper or more often plastic film used as substrate usually needs to be unusually pure, smooth and mechanically optimized. For example, polyester film is popular but rarely packaging grade. Some processes call for high temperature annealing and stainless steel foil, polyimide or polyethylene naphthalate film may be necessary. Nonetheless, simpler, lower cost, more environmental options are gradually proving possible and a huge new industry is in the making. There are some unfortu- nate aspects however. The silicon chip revolution started with transistors because they are needed on nearly everything electronic but we are still waiting for viable printed transistors sold in volume in appropriate circuits. We have many types of printed display, resistor, capacitor, sensor and so on but we usually have to incorporate a silicon chip to make something saleable and this has rather defeated the whole objective of very low price. RAPID PROGRESS However, all these problems are being overcome and the next few years will see an avalanche of announcements of new products and capabilities. This will be assisted by cre- ative design rather than the improve something that already exists approach of so many engineering-led packaging projects in the past. Hopefully those many brand manag- ers, brand facing media suppliers, packaging professionals that are persisting with the toolkit of the last century such as changing color and shape and adding a few mechanical gis- mos will also get up to speed on e-packaging and its printed electronics. They will certainly look very silly when competing brands modernize in this way. THE PRICE OF NEW FEATURES When useful electronics is fitted to packaging, it typically justifies 0.01 to 0.03 percent of product cost as, with 12 billion anti-theft tags currently fitted to products every year at 3 to 5 cents each. IDTechEx figures in 2020 are consistent with this rule of thumb. We see the really large volumes being met with winking, scroll turning text, speech, preset timers, status monitoring, electronic rewards and so on being met only when they are fitted for a few cents. NOSTALGIA Most packaging is remarkably nostalgic of a bygone age. Mankind got to the moon over forty years ago but we cannot see how much is left in an aerosol can. Yet it only takes one brand to modernize and the others must come running. Little wonder that branded products are losing market share to easily produced copies and the packaging industry is suffer- ing from wafer thin margins as it lets itself be commoditized. TAKING A LEAD In contrast, this year, Kenneth McGuire of Procter & Gamble, the largest CPC in the world, gave a fascinating talk on the general needs they have from printed electronics. He described P&G's famous two moments of truth ---one when a consumer is in the store and decides whether or not to choose their product and the other when the consumer uses the product. P&G is interested in using printed electronics to enhance products at those moments. He highlighted that printed electronics does not necessarily have to be cheap. Value is more important. For example, he cited how P&G launched teeth whitening Crest strips, which are sold for about $50. This was in comparison to spending $350 and an hour at the dentist or purchasing uncomfortable gum trays from stores. P&G deals in high volume product throughput so scalability is crucial for them to consider projects, as is safety, affecting, for example, the materials that can be used. He would like to see more printed electronics providers offering final products rather than just components. ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Dr. Peter Harrop is chairman of IDTe- chEx. For more information on this topic, please contact the author Dr. Harrop at p.harrop@IDTechEx.com. INDUSTRY INDICATORS
Sustainable Fall 2009