Mass production of printed electronics has taken a stride towards practicality with agreement to commission the first Pragmatic FlexLogic Fab-in-a-Box unit to print ultra thin seminconductor devices.
It means that plans announced last year by the Cambridge company remain on track. The initial machine will be operated at the company’s pilot production unit as part of the UK National Printable Electronics Centre, itself located at the Centre for Process Innovation in Sedgefield. Low cost production of billions of electronic devices is considered a key enabler for the Internet of Things.
The FlexLogic unit is designed as a practical approach to solving the production issues around creating the billions of units that will be needed. It eliminates the need for clean room facilities within the enclosed unit.
The system will be commissioned during this year with volume production beginning next year. Scott White, CEO of Pragmatic, says: “Flexible electronic devices have opened up new applications that were previously not possible with conventional silicon chips, but the benefits can only be realised if they achieve the right cost point and scalable capacity needed for billions of circuits and beyond.
“These agreements mark a major milestone in Pragmatic's ambition to make smart objects truly viable in consumer markets.”
The company is deeply involved with a number of consortia created to test applications for printed electronics, including smart packaging, enhanced games and security devices. Last year it raised £18 million to complete development of the FlexLogic from backers that include Avery Dennison, producer of self adhesive label materials and a leader in RFID tags. one of the first markets for ultra thin flexile printed electronics.
The Necomada (Nano-enabled conducting materials accelerating device applicability) consortium is another exploring practical uses for printed electronics in association with the Internet of Things. It aims to create the supply chains of expertise and production to mass produce units that can be attached to clothing, for healthcare, in domestic appliances, smart packaging and which can be printed on the adapted label press as well as the FlexLogic unit that is part of the NPEC.
The result will be a way to test proof of concept for devices on behalf of commercial customers. Jon Helliwell, business development director at CPI says: “We believe that the unique blend of skills and capabilities within our consortium will enable us to develop materials that will support high speed, roll to roll integration of hybrid and large area electronics. This will unlock many of the opportunities that the Internet of Things presents to a wide range of stakeholders.”
The barrier the team seeks to lower is the cost of materials involved and to allow more complex devices to be produced, in the main around RFID and NFC tags. There are 13 companies involved with Crown Packaging as well as Pragmatic a key member of the consortium.
The day when printed electronics break the supply and productivity barriers to become available and low cost enough for mass adoption, has come closer with investments that Pragmatic is making at the National Printed Electonics centre near Sedgefield.