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FLEXO Magazine : November 2010
Industry Indicators Printed Electronics: Killer applications By Dr. Peter Harrop It seems every major consumer goods company now has a pro- gram to adopt printed electronics throughout its activities. When ana- lysts IDTechEx present to companies and their brand-facing suppliers, it is common for the people entering the room to think of themselves as practic- ing skills based on plastics, paper and printing, only to leave the room realizing that they are now part of the electronics industry—or that they need to be as a matter of some urgency. It is happening in a back-to-front way. Printed and partly printed elec- tronics are not being applied to very expensive products or components. It is more about modernizing printing more than it is about modernizing electronics. We are not even starting with lowest volume applications. The first applications involving billions of units a year hap- pened some years ago. They included the tester on the primary packaging of Duracell batteries, a GSI tamper detecting-sen- sor on pharmaceuticals and making membrane keyboards. The popular understanding that printed electronics is all about cost reduction of existing products is wrong. The battery tester permits you to check your battery when on the move and away from home and a similar idea is behind this year’s print- ed healthcare testers. The electronic tamper detector can be checked by automation at high speed. Membrane keyboards are waterproof, flexible and last longer, so all these examples are about making something new possible. Partly printed RFID labels are only applied to about 50 million retail pallet loads yearly—a loss-making business for almost everyone concerned. By contrast, most successes in printed electronics involve the public. There is a place for printed elec- tronics without a human interface such as anti-theft tags and covert tamper detection but it is not the biggest opportunity. In the IDTechEx report, “Brand Enhancement by Electron- ics in Packaging 2010-2020,” the profusion of case studies mostly involve printed and potentially printed electronics. The majority—15 case studies—involve primary packaging. Eight concern smart labels and only two concern secondary packag- ing. That will change, particularly where secondary packaging opens up to become point-of-sale pro- motion. However, it still seems strange given that printed electronics usually costs more. For example, 30 billion coin cells are sold every year at an aver- age ex factory price of only 1.1 cents. Printed equivalents cost 10 to 100 times as much as that. Printed batteries are used in electrophoretic skin patches delivering drugs because a coin cell can stop blood flow. With printed electronics in general, something new can happen and this is often so dramatic that it is funded by the fat media budget of the brand, not the slim packaging budget. Esquire magazine used a $15 animated electronic display funded by a Ford car promotion, then Entertainment Age magazine had a $25 plus moving color display with sound funded by a Pepsi Cola promotion. A scrolling light-emitting Kent cigarette multipack display, costing several dollars, was funded as a one million piece promotion. The dramatic new benefits of printed electronics have now been seen in successful Japanese roadside posters that emit an aroma when someone walks near, and flexible, disposable solar-powered interactive posters currently on trial. A new cookie point-of-sale has a little shelf with a disposable printed heater that warms the cookie before you eat it. Some mobile phone decoration now changes to reflect the person calling— each has their own pattern. Interactive furniture, floor covering and drapes are on offer this year thanks to printed electronics. Printed electronics is being used to rejuvenate some old printed products. McDonald’s place mats, Hallmark party tablecloths and Hasbro and Character Visions board games have been made interactive with sound and light emission. Primary packages talk to tell you if you have won a prize or reinforce an advertisement. Tear off rewards on primary packaging are now becoming electronic, i.e. interesting and valuable. T-Ink made a pass to a golf event double as a radio tuned to the event’s live commentary. We now see a rich stream of exploitation based on printed electronics that is waterproof, washable and molded into plas- tic without damage. FM/AM/GPS/GSM antennas in cars are printed then molded to shape in plastic body parts. Completely printed and laminated replacements for instrument clusters and wiring will save weight, cost and space in 2011 cars. A good indication of where printed electronics is next head- ed comes from the speaker, exhibitor and delegate line up for the world’s largest event on printed electronics—Printed Electronics USA—which takes place in Silicon Valley, CA this December. Most of the leading consumer packaged goods companies are sending people and there will be many new materials, processes and devices suited to their needs. Even routine letterpress printing of graphics that gives a mirror- • The popular understanding that printed electronics is all about cost reduction of existing products is wrong. • A new cookie point-of-sale has a little shelf with a disposable printed heater that warms the cookie before you eat it. • We now see a rich stream of exploitation based on printed electronics that is waterproof, washable and molded into plastic without damage. 100 FLEXO novemBer 2010 www.flexography.org FLX_Nov10_mech.indd 100 11/1/10 2:27 PM
Sustainable Fall 2010