Electronics is entering a new era in which we need to go beyond mass production and begin to address unique, customized devices that are made on-demand. Wearables, automotive and a vast range of IOT applications cannot be served by traditional “electronics in a box” solutions. A key enabler for this transition is flexible and conformal electronics. For the last couple of decades printed and flexible electronics was viewed as a low-cost manufacturing option for mass products such as displays and RFID. The challenge of delivering cost and performance in competition with well-established products has been significant. More recently, we see new opportunities for flexible, printed and hybrid electronics to deliver unique, often niche products. For example, delivering unique form factors, integration of electronics in parts and enabling a digital manufacturing infrastructure. In many instances, this need for uniqueness will require mass customization – the value of customization with the low cost of mass production.
An analogous revolution took place with the advent of digital printing on paper. As part of the presentation, we will look at lessons from that change to refine our anticipation of the future needs for commercialization of flexible electronics. As an example, initial expectations about digital printing of books concentrated on the value of being able to produce a single book on demand. However, that value turned out to be much less important than the impact of the complete change of work processes and usage of factory space that was enabled by digital collimation of the pages. The future Internet of Things (IOT) will require similar custom solutions to sense and interpret the world. Hybrid, flexible printed sensor systems can address both the desired form factor and the sensing modality for a variety of applications. For example, structural monitoring or wearables, require unique form factors, often personalized or customized. Arrays of sensors can be readily fabricated through printing, whilst data acquisition and communication are best performed by thin silicon microcircuits. Printed sensor arrays with combinatorial capabilities are especially powerful for accurate detection and selectivity. Our team has been focusing on the integration of printed electronics with sensors, microchips and other discrete components. Examples of these projects include wireless biosensors in mouthguards, networks of chemical sensors for methane, “peel and stick” sensor labels for environmental monitoring in buildings as well as smart tags for packaging and supply chain monitoring.
Dr. Ross Bringans is Director of the Electronic Materials and Devices research organization at PARC, a Xerox company. PARC is in the business of Open Innovation and works worldwide with clients, both Government and Commercial, to develop technologies and move them towards commercialization. As part of this business, the Electronic Materials and Devices organization has a technical focus on novel printing technologies, flexible, printed, and large-area electronics, micro-electro-mechanical systems (MEMS), optoelectronic systems; and the application of these to create systems. The infrastructure within the organization includes both silicon and optoelectronic fabrication lines for prototype devices. Dr. Bringans received his PhD in physics from the University of Cambridge and is a Fellow of the American Physical Society.