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A Guide to Printed Electronics

Through printed electronic production methods, manufacturers can design and print circuits onto a variety of flexible substrates. Printed electronics are now used to create electronic devices ranging from flexible keyboards to electronic skin patches.

“Printed electronics” is an umbrella term for a variety of more specific manufacturing methods, but experts predict that the collective market will grow as large as $73 billion by 2025. Common applications now include flexible screens, intelligent packaging, and many others that are transforming both consumer and industrial markets—especially as available substrates become thinner and more flexible.

Printed Electronics: Impact and Benefits

There are multiple different techniques for printing electronics. Many electronic goods can be printed with inkjet and digital printers using conductive ink. Other inks that can’t be used with traditional printers can be printed through screen and nozzle dispensing systems. Beyond creating the circuitry lines that connect different parts, printed electronics technology can now print everything from semiconductors and transistors to batteries.

Benefits of Printed Electronics

The capability to print electronics has changed how many manufacturers and product developers do business. Circuits need no longer be enclosed in bulky devices, so manufacturers can track the production process more thoroughly.

For example, goods can be marked with radio frequency identification (RFID) labels that can be scanned or passively tracked to facilitate better supply chain visibility and inventory management. Using intelligent labels, sensors, and displays throughout manufacturing and commercial facilities ultimately gives companies more control over their inventory. It even offers companies remote monitoring capabilities.

Some of the direct benefits of printed electronics include:

Printed electronics encompass a wide range of conventional and nonconventional electronic goods, with the latter category including active fabrics and clothing, flexible displays, and smart labels. Different inks can also be matched with different substrates for varying degrees of flexibility.

Printed electronic goods can be printed much faster than it takes to use traditional electronics fabrication processes. Printing electronics merely requires a printing and curing period rather than the semi-manual integration of circuitry and wire assemblies. This allows companies to meet demand faster and maintain better control over their inventories.

Directly, printed electronics cost less than standard circuits that require a multitude of specialized parts and materials. As the manufacturing process for printing electronics continues to grow, more goods will follow the same designs and be more efficiently produced. Once a facility or a chosen manufacturing partner has installed a global printing base, they can produce a wider variety of goods with less specialized equipment.

The conductive ink is only used where needed, so there is much less material waste. Printed electronics can also use a variety of substrates, including paper, to reduce the risk of expensive waste.

Reduced waste

Reduced waste

Applications for Printed Electronics

Printed electronics can benefit every industry that uses electronics. Some of the key industries taking advantages of printed electronics include:

  • Advertising: Printed electronics have facilitated the use of flexible screens and other media devices that advertisers can use to interact with audiences more continuously.
  • Consumer goods: Logistics companies and retailers benefit from printed electronics. They can track and better organize shipments of goods to keep showroom or store floors well-stocked.
  • Electronics: With printed electronics, electronic goods can be more flexible than ever. Flexible keyboards were one of the first popular printed consumer goods that highlighted the benefits of printed electronics.
  • Healthcare: Personalized healthcare increasingly includes opportunities to use data such as daily walking habits, heart rate, blood pressure, and sleep patterns. Wearable devices with printed biosensors can easily monitor and collect this information.
  • Mobility: Printed electronics are helping to improve mobility. Instead of patients and people with serious health conditions being restricted to a bed or their homes, they can now leave their homes more safely by using wearable devices that communicate with their medical provider.
  • Telecommunications: When combined, printed electronics and 3D printing offer manufacturers an array of possibilities. Some companies are exploring the benefits of 3D printing antennas that have electronics printed into the material to send and receive stronger signals.

Key Applications

While the above industries and markets overall have been transformed by printed electronics, the technology has also facilitated many interesting innovations. These include:

Traumatic brain injuries and Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) have been significant dangers for football players for decades. To better protect players’ brains from physical impact damage, helmet manufacturer Riddel has created helmets with InSite Impact Response Systems. These systems monitor conditions within the helmet and can alert coaches or EMTs when a dangerous impact occurs. The company has also incorporated the electronics systems into customized 3D printed helmet interiors.

Wearable biosensors are more niche and medically accurate versions of the wearable fitness devices many consumers use. These sensors can monitor vital signs and daily routine. Not only can these be used for better monitoring of at-risk patients with congenital diseases, but they also allow remote patients who live far from hospitals to easily monitor their respective conditions. Some wearable biosensors can now even read glucose levels.

Membrane switch assemblies are ergonomic and create more sensitive switchboards and control panels. These panels can incorporate a wide range of buttons that allow operators to access different functions and readouts easily. Membrane switches play an important role in developing touchscreens and curved panel surfaces.

These are just a few of the specific applications that benefit from printed electronics. Other popular applications include:

  • Active clothing
  • Animated posters
  • Books
  • Flexible displays and screens
  • Glucose test strips
  • Intelligent labels
  • Packaging
  • RFIDs
  • Solar cells
  • Upholstery

Printing Methods and Options

Every device and substrate works best with a specific printing method or ink type. Some of the most common printing methods include:

Printing Methods

Inkjet

Inkjet printers are easy to set up and use. They work best to create organic semiconductors and other soluble, low-viscosity elements.

Printing Methods

Screen

Screen printers create thicker, sturdier lines for more durable circuits. Applications include printing on antennas and circuit boards.

Printing Methods

Flexographic

Another popular method for high-volume orders, flexographic printing uses relief plates. The plates can apply ink to a variety of substrates such as metallic films, paper, and plastic.

Techprint specializes in the design and manufacturing of printed electronic products. Our in-house printing utilizes high speed automatic press equipment for screen-printing, flexography, pad printing, and hot stamp. We offer engineering support for design, prototyping, and final volume manufacturing. We have extensive experience in all types of materials and inks to meet your custom requirements. We provide complete in-house product manufacturing capabilities.

Techprint has designed and manufactured various printed electronic products for the industrial, medical, instrumentation, and security markets;

  • Medical Bio-Sensors
  • Thin film Batteries
  • RFID antennas
  • Flex circuits
  • Pressure sensor switches
  • Smart cards
  • Thermal sensors
  • Transdermal patches
  • Shielding and Insulators

 

Printing and Finishing Process

  • Printing and Finishing Process
  • Silkscreen
  • Flexographic
  • Hot Stamp
  • Digital
  • Pad Print
  • Offset
  • Die Cutting
  • Laser cutting
  • Laser marking
  • Laminating
  • Embossing
  • Slitting
  • Sheeting
  • Packaging

Materials

  • Silver conductive inks
  • Silver/Silver Chloride inks
  • Carbon resistive inks
  • Dielectric inks
  • Cathode inks
  • Printable Adhesives
  • Radio-lucent inks
  • X-Ray image inks
  • Polyester film
  • Polycarbonate/Lexan films
  • PEN films
  • Polyimide
  • Tyvek
  • Kevlar
  • Polystyrene
  • Polypropylene
  • Polyethylene
  • Vinyl
  • Acrylic

Professional Associations

  • UL
  • CSA
  • IPC
  • ESD
  • RoHS

QC Process & Certification

  • ISO 9001

We specialize in creating high-quality printed electronic solutions that streamline manufacturing processes, give products smarter capabilities, and make users safer. Printed electronics are the ideal solution for building smart devices and many other types of electronics. Contact us or request information to get your next project started.

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