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Printed electronics is not all about cost reduction
                              Printed electronics killer applications
     Dr Peter Harrop (Founder and Chairman of IDTechEx.), Printed Electronics World, 18 October, 2010
Every major consumer goods company now has a program to adopt printed electronics throughout its activities. When analysts IDTechEx have presented to companies and their brand facing suppliers, it is common for the people entering the room to think of themselves as practising skills based on plastics, paper and printing and leave the room realising 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 electronics and electrics are not being applied to very expensive things or electronic things first. It is more about modernising printing more than it is about modernising electronics.
We are not even starting with lowest volume applications. The first applications involving billions of units a year happened some years ago. They included the tester on the primary packaging of Duracell batteries, a GSI tamper detecting sensor 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 years printed 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 electronics 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 electronics 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 packaging. That will change - particularly where secondary packaging opens up to become point of sale promotion.
However, it still seems strange given that printed electronics usually costs more. For example, 30 billion coin cells are sold every year at an average ex factory price of only 1.1 cents. Printed equivalents cost ten to one hundred times as much as that. Printed batteries are used in electrophoretic skin patches delivering drugs because a coin cell can stop blood flow.
A hugely important new application will arrive next year in the form of printed electronics and electrics in vehicles, particularly the new electric vehicles where low weight is particularly critical to get range. At the unique event Future of Electric Vehicles£¬T-Ink, Inc will describe printing replacing copper wiring and overhead instrument clusters in cars where laminated lighting, touch controls etc can be moulded to shape forming a more rugged, lower cost structure with up to 40% weight and space saving. The cost and size of an electric vehicle battery pack is often only 50% cells, the rest being electronics and electrics that will be printed to connect to third generation, smaller batteries such as those form PolyPlus Battery Company and Oxis Energy. Wireless sensors and actuators will also save wiring in future vehicles and gradually be printed themselves as Virginatech CEHMS will explain at this event.
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 change 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. McDonalds 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 events live commentary.
We now see a rich seam of exploitation based on printed electronics that is waterproof, washable and moulded into plastic without damage. FM/AM/GPS/GSM antennas in cars are printed then moulded 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.

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