The future of printed electronics is now (pictures)
PALO ALTO, Calif. -- Scientists at the Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) are working on a new technology that makes it possible to quickly and efficiently print functional electronics, such as sensors, light-emitters, transistors, and even semiconductors. Though the technology is in its earliest days, and it's not clear how it will be employed, the promise is there for a wide range of possible uses, in industry and beyond.
Not 3D printing
Printed electronics is not the same as 3D printing, but it does use the same additive manufacturing method. Traditional electronics manufacturing is "subtractive," meaning the end product is etched away from a material, while this method is essentially the same as printing text or imagery on paper.
Flexible and transparent
Because the material that the electronics can be printed on is flexible and transparent, it is hoped that the technology can be incorporated directly into product packaging.
One use is to build temperature sensors directly into the packaging for, say, fish. If the temperature of the fish goes above 35 degrees Fahrenheit, the sensor will issue an alert. The packaging is produced by Thinfilm Electronics.
PARC's Janos Veres said that the state of printed electronics today is akin to that of transistors in the 1960s. But all that's required now is for partners to look for applications that are "good enough."
Inkjet and Gravure
The printers used in this technology can utilize either standard InkJet print heads or Gravure heads.
One of the most important things that can happen in printed electronics right now is for PARC and its partners to create a series of libraries of applications. Among them are active matrix displays, image sensor arrays, and memory arrays.
Sensors and interfaces
Other potential libraries include a variety of sensors and even batteries.
Digital circuit libraries
There are also a series of potential digital circuit libraries that could make up the feature set of printed electronics.