Saturday, April 22, 2006

Printing electronics

IDTechX printed electronic conference was a real eye opener as to the state of the industry and great fun to boot.

Great fun? Well not only because of the cool technology and the interesting people, but it was in my old haunt of Cambridge. I was camped out in Churchill college, which is a bit of backwater in terms of bars but the room were good, the surroundings great and the long walk back in the evening seemed worth it.

There was around 200+ attendees with companies varying from printers, electronic manufacturers, ink and material specialists and the ubiquitous VCs.

Several main themes to the discussions -

* Printed electronics is not a replacement for silicon (well not anytime soon that is) however you can inkjet print circuits at close to the 5 micrometer resolution (in labs, not published), as well as printing active and passive components (transistors, resistors etc).

* Lots of other printing technologies (flexographic etc) are relevant - especially for mass production of printed electronics - reel to reel printing. A number of companies are making real progress in this area - there is a particular focus on printing RFID tags.

* Use of printed electronics and the whole area of direct printing (use of printing techniques to manufacture objects) is expected to find commercial applications in niche areas over the next few years - in some areas it is already happen.

* Don't just limit yourself to printing circuit and the components, you can also print batteries, displays, memory and even photo sensors.

Over the last ten years the whole area of direct printing of objects has come on leaps and bounds, from the macro scale to the micro scale. No-one yet has started to put all this technology together, but the potential is there.