07 April 2013 Events

UK development brings flexo printed electronics a step closer

Print has huge potential in creating a new generation of low cost, powerful electronic devices, from switches to tags.

Electronic membranes printed by flex.

Electronic membranes printed by flex.

THE CENTRE FOR PROCESS INNOVATION in Sedgefield has demonstrated that it is feasible to print a new type of touch sensitive electronics material that has extensive use in flexible display panels, switches and sensors.

The composite material can be printed using narrow web flexo presses and a special ink that will spawn a new generation of electronic circuitry. The first test run was completed at the end of February with promising results and subsequent production runs are planned using different formulations of the ink to create the sensors. This are based on materials developed by UK company Peratech called QTC, quantum tunnelling composite.

THE PLAN IS TO PRINT THIS MATERIAL on to different materials to enable electronics to be included in toys, display panels, clothing and a multitude of other applications. The developer has already earned a Queen’s Award for the innovation. And now the project with CPI, which is half way to completion, is demonstrating that conventional printing equipment can be used, without the need for a clean room environment. The current generation of touch sensitive panels are relatively complex to produce and are vulnerable to oil or water. By contrast the electronics produced with the QTC materials, currently printed using slower silk screen technology, have been washed without adverse impact.

The technology can also be used used in sensors to detect the presence of certain VOCs which can be dangerous or act as health monitors when included in clothing. CEO of the CPI Nigel Perry says: “Our joint research on QTC print ink for volume printed electronics will open its use up for a huge number of possible applications.  We have already shown that printing does not need to be done in proper cleanroom conditions, which reduces the production costs even more.”

THE UK DEVELOPMENT COMES in the same week that RR Donnelley has announced that it can supply NFC and RFID tags incorporated with other printed materials that it supplies, for displays, direct mail and catalogues. It will also monitor and provide analytics for the use of the tags.

The company says that the design and specification of the tags can be optimised to match a customer’s requirements with Ronnie Sarkar, SVP technology innovations saying: “The printed electronics solutions that we continue to develop significantly boost production flexibility. We can very quickly change the production line to accommodate different specifications, dramatically reducing the cycle time associated with bringing RFID and NFC tags to market.”

IT ALSO COINCIDES WITH SWISS speciality chemicals company Clariant buying Bayer’s Bayink silver ink technology that is used in printing electronic circuits. These are used in solar panels as well as electronic tags and printed electronic panels and screens. The ink is applied using inkjet technology.

For Clariant the acquisition is a further step to providing a portfolio of materials for the electronics and energy markets. Clariant is also a provider of chemicals to the papermaking sector.