Printed Electronics for Packaging and Everyday Items – Drupa 2012 report

Monday, 22 October 2012 00:00 Michal Kotyk


Over two weeks in May, drupa 2012, the world's largest printing and media industry exhibition, was held in Dusseldorf, Germany. While digital printing, the dominant theme of the previous exhibition (2008), was well represented, two new themes this year were hybrid printing, combinig offset and digital printing for example, and printed electronics.

 During the previous exhibition, the topic of printed electronics had been addressed, but this year 28 companies offered printed electronics related exhibits and the exhibition provided special tours and lectures on the topic. This year's focus on such high-tech printing technologies hinted at the growth of the field in Europe and the excitement that is gathering around the industry.

This special report on drupa cover the trends in printed electronics in Europe from the floor of exhibition, lectures provided by the Organic Electronics Association (OE-A), and the lecture series on the future of printing by ESMA, a European screen printing association.

Since the early days of printed electronics, the technology has been primarily applied to high-tech fields, mostly notably to displays. While there is a question over whether early attempts at printed electronics can even be considered printed electronics, using metallic paste and screen printing to form electronic circuits has already been around for several decades. One expected outcome of this approach is reduced production costs of previously unprintable units through the adoption of printing processes. Moreover, another driver for printed electronics developments has been the hope that printing will allow for the use of previously unforeseen functional materials.

In contrast to high-tech applications, printed electronics is also being applied to packaging and everyday items. For example, there have been attempts to provide packaging with new functions by incorporating RFID, sensors, and logic chips. While packaging manufacturers hope to develop new markets through increasing the value of standard materials, the increased costs associated with the approach are not welcome by those using these materials. Therefore, in order to apply printed electronics to low-tech fields, cost reductions and necessity, whether users truly demand such functions, are key. As such, it is not enough for printed electronics to simply exist. Rather, there must be a clear application.