We can laminate solar power onto a large dirigible, for example, and Northrop Grumman in the USA has just landed an order for $517 million to make one for surveillance from the upper atmosphere that is based on flexible photovoltaics. Delivery will be in 2012. Boeing in the USA has won $89 million in funding from the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency DARPA for the second phase of the Vulture long-endurance unmanned aerial system UAS program made possible by flexible photovoltaics.
Samsung Electronics and Panasonic of Japan are both prioritizing printed electronics and seeking to deploy electronic printing much more widely. It is seen as an enabling technology that is already cost reducing their electronic and electrical products.
Printed Electronics target what was previously not possible
It is not primarily about cost reduction, nor is there a trend towards organic versions taking over most applications. It is no longer focused mainly on improving existing products. It targets doing what was previously impossible to create radically different consumer propositions. For example Nokia of Finland is about to make announcements concerning its work on stretchable printed electronics. Consumer goods companies see a next level of retailing involving far more noticeable, appealing and informative human interfaces provided by printed electronics. These will appeal to more of the human senses. Examples include Mars Inc., the world’s largest petfood company, which is also a leader in human foods, and Metro Group of Germany is one of the largest supermarket chains in the world.
In Germany, Platingtech and Future Shape are seeing huge interest in their smart textiles and apparel created with printed electronics while T-Ink in the USA is using it to radically reduce the weight and cost and increase space in the new electric cars, having already had great success with printed electronic toys and novelties. Indeed, T-Ink has some groundbreaking propositions for consumer goods as have Flexible Electronics Concepts and Novalia in the UK. Soligie in the USA has an impressively expanding repertoire of high volume production capability to meet the required output and price points with these. On different tack, outdoor promotions leader JC Decaux in France is eager to see the large area deployment of moving colour, sound and so on in billboards posters and the like.
Many Users are Developers Now
It is little wonder that some large organisations are now both developers and users of printed electronics, including the US Army, which sees scope for radically new components made possible with printed electronics. That even includes printing energy harvesting layers such as the VirginiaTech CEHMS piezoelectric layers that convert movement into electricity.
Basic Building Blocks
In the new world of multilayer electronic printing it is best not to worry too much about where electronics begins and electrics ends: they are merging. However, making basic building blocks such as timers and energy harvesting with storage will be important. Consider the European FACESS project depositing a complete photovoltaic, power conversion and storage unit on a single plastic film. The Bayer of Germany breakthrough in combining “fidelity haptics” and light management with their polycarbonate film is also relevant here. DuPont Teijin of the USA is leader in the specialist polyester films used in other printed electronics.