reportFocus Report 2010: Printed Electronics
8.9 Executive Summary
Printed electronics creates electrically functional devices by printing on variety of substrates. Compared to conventional manufacturing of microelectronics, printed electronics is characterized by simpler and more cost-effective fabrication of high and low volume products. Despite its many benefits, to date the performance of printed electronics in terms of the actual function and reliability is less than that of conventional electronics.
This report considers two aspects of printed electronics that relate specifically to nanotechnology. First, printed electronics can use different so-called nano inks. This report deals with the state of-art of metal nano inks and carbon nanotube inks but will not go into detail of the methodology of nanomaterials, for these the reader is referred to the Materials report .
Secondly, at least in laboratory scale, printed electronics can be printed at nanoscale features. Experts currently believe that nanoscale features will be possible to print with Flexography printing, Gravure printing Inkjet printing and Nanoimprint lithography. It is also possible to create nanoscale features using different laser methods, but those are beyond the scope of this report.
One of the biggest current challenges facing printed electronics lies in the materials used for printing: currently there are only few substrates available. There are many nanomaterials and nanoparticles but few researchers are formulating these into printable solutions (functional ink).The use of functional materials and nanoparticles in inks has broaden the scope of applications that printed electronics enables. Suppliers formulating novel functional inks and setting up high-volume ink manufacturing facilities will in the near future have an important role in the development and commercialisation.
Another challenge lies in developing the processes themselves for real mass-manufacturing. Currently they are mostly “hand-made” prototypes with many parameters that need to be optimised. The price of the system is also still too high. Yield is another big question mark in mass-manufactured real applications. Experts believe that it will be a combination of different methods that will finally be used for manufacturing printed electronics. More application focused research on combining different methods is needed. Some experts believe that inkjet and nanoimprint has the highest potential for the creation of nanostructures - but time will tell.
The biggest bottleneck of all is the definition of what kind of value adding applications are needed. Currently, the vast majority of current information and communication technology (ICT) applications do not require nanoscale patterning. However, according to our web-based questionnaire answered by 33 experts, there is an ICT market need for printing of nanoscale features with the assessed technologies. The experts do not believe that the first nanoscale featured products have entered the market yet.
Printed electronics enables applications in almost all industry sectors. According to expert opinion, RFIDs and sensors are so far the most interesting targets but biocompatible electronics, batteries, displays and LEDs are also soon to be seen.
From an economic point of view, printed electronics is one of the current fields where the hype in R&D should be turned into business. According to expert opinion the use of flexographic and gravure printing for making nanoscale features is still at the fundamental research stage. Experts believe that products using nanoimprint lithography will enter markets at the same time as those using inkjet technology, in approximately 4 years. Furthermore, our questionnaire shows that experts believe that mature markets for printing of nanoscale features are expected to be reached in 7-10 years. According to a recent UK report (2009), made by the Department for Business Innovation & Skills (BIS), the market value is forecast to rise from $2 billion in 2009 to $120 billion in 2020.
If successful, new types of multidisciplinary cooperation will emerge to drive renewal of industry with printed electronics. Because printing usually makes the whole device at once, changes are also expected to be seen in the manufacturing value-chain as well. Identifying companies working with printed electronics is difficult as it still the technology is at such an early market phase.
To conclude, it is important to remember that the end users will not care about the printing processes used as long as the product price and functionality satisfy their needs. First, it is important to understand whether there is a need for printed nanoscale features.
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