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There has been talk about printed electronics for a long time, but it is not until the past year that the market has taken the technology – and the opportunities it offers – seriously. Naturally, the major advantage of printed electronics is that, thanks to existing efficient printing processes, it is possible to produce high volumes at a comparatively low cost – basically, multitudes of smart electronic devices that don’t cost the earth.

 


Tommy Höglund is a business developer at the Swedish research institute Acreo Swedish ICT, where he runs the project Printed Electronics Arena (PEA). PEA’s task is to commercialise and exploit research and development in the field of printed electronics, which has been run jointly by Acreo and Linköping University since 1998. The focus is basically on generating business from what has been developed – and PEA seems to have really taken off.

 

“Yes, it’s going extremely well. The key resource, which the business world loves, is our testing and demo facility, PEA-Manufacturing. Companies from around the world come here to test out their different solutions,” relates Tommy Höglund.

 

The testing facility is open to any type of organisation or company that wants to try printed electronics in its products or processes. Many naturally come from the packaging and paper industry, but there is also considerable interest from other quarters.

 

“The medical and health industry and the electronics industry are just two of the areas where new opportunities have been spotted for printed electronics.”


Printed memory and moisture sensors

Tommy confirms that a great deal has happened in the field in recent times. The company Thinfilm Electronics, which has worked with Acreo for a long time, has recently made a major breakthrough, for example. Thinfilm, which has its headquarters in Oslo but its production and development in Linköping, manufactures various products using printed electronics, and was among the first to launch printed memory in the form of a small label. Such memory can be attached to packaging and serve as a verification of authenticity, for instance.

 

 

Another exciting example of a spin-off company is Invisense, which prints moisture sensors that can be built into bathrooms, kitchens and other places where there is a risk of damage from moisture or water. It is then possible to regularly check moisture levels using a meter reader. This smart and highly cost-effective method enables builders and property owners to discover, and so rectify, any problems in good time.

What are printed electronics?
New electronic materials, such as electrical conductors and semiconductors in the form of plastics (polymers), have made it possible to manufacture electronic ink. The ink can be used to draw electronic components and circuits on paper or plastic. This process can be automated using printers or printing presses, which creates a process for the mass production of electronics – known as printed electronics.

 

The technology platform is made up of components in the form of transistors, conductors, resistors, displays, buttons, batteries, antennas and so on, which can be printed on various substrates with the help of familiar printing methods such as screenprinting, flexography, offset, gravure and inkjet. Compared with ordinary electronics manufacturing, this cost-effective mass production allows for the rapid development of prototypes in small series and entails lower investment costs.

 

Examples of products – now and in the future
Displays for smart packaging, safety information and date stamps. Batteries for power supply. Antennas for wireless communications, for example between labels and readers. Memory. Wireless labels that connect to networks. Thin and flexible lighting in any conceivable shape. Sensors that register moisture, temperature or biological substances, for example. Verification of authenticity.



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Holmen is a forest industry group that manufactures printing paper, paperboard and sawn timber and runs forestry and energy production operations. The company’s extensive forest holdings and its high proportion of energy production are strategically important resources for its future growth.

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