Printing Electronics with PragmatIC Printing

In a previous article, we highlighted Camtek (NASDAQ:CAMT), a company that develops enhanced automated solutions for production processes in the printed circuit board (PCB) industry, and their intent to move into “3D printing”. Camtek is preparing to launch their “GreenJet 3D printer”, which in fact is a digital inkjet solder mask printing system which has been around since 2007. This printing system deposits solder mask on printed circuit boards, but is not capable of printing circuits on plastic, paper, card or metal surfaces that are flexible or curved. One company that can is PragmatIC Printing.

About Pragmatic Printing

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Cambridge UK based Pragmatic Printing acquired the printed electronics business of Nano ePrint Ltd. in 2010. Spun off from the University of Manchester in 2006, Nano ePrint was a specialist in the design and manufacturing of planar nano-electronics. Pragmatic Printing uses imprint lithography to produce sub-micron transistors on various substrates using physical force to pattern the elements, which has the potential to be very cost-effective. The electronics can be integrated into plastic, paper, card or metal surfaces, which may be curved or flexible.

Source: Pragmatic
Ultra-thin, flexible, transparent, nano-scale electronic devices – Source: Pragmatic

The printed electronics can be partially transparent, or integrated into the artwork of the product, and are extremely thin so that they do not appear raised.

Technology Applications

While Pragmatic has used this technology to create electronic greeting cards for Tigerprint, a Hallmark subsidiary, they propose some much more interesting applications for this technology going forward. Animated branding can bring a brand logo to life by making it flash or change color when the consumer touches it.  Brand protection could allow the consumer to easily authenticate products via a label that shows a logo when touched or placed near an RF source. Smart packaging can integrate useful functionality into packaging, for example, a timer allowing the consumer to easily check how long their hair dye has been applied. All the potential applications for printed electronics have tremendous growth potential in the next six years as see in the below chart by NanoMarkets:

Printed_Electronics_Market

The above forecast by NanoMarkets calls for a $1.15 billion printed electronics market in 2014 which will grow to $16.7 billion in 2019, a CAGR of 58 percent. Recently Pragmatic partnered with Procter & Gamble and several other firms to create the world’s first flexible multi-functional timer based on commercially available printed electronics which will be distributed at the IDTechEx Printed Electronics Europe event in Berlin next month. The device consists of an electronic logic circuit implemented with thin-film metal oxide transistors, powered by a printed battery, and integrated onto a paper substrate. The piece of paper has four individually controlled timing options, activated by bending or “dog-earing” one of the corners of the paper.

According to an article early last year in Electronics Weekly .com, Pragmatic was producing more than 10,000 flexible logic circuits per month on a pilot line and was expected to scale to a capacity of over 10 million logic circuits per year during 2013. A number of companies including ITW Foils, a part of $34 billion Illinois Tool Works, have licensed the printable circuit technology from Pragmatic. If the meteoric growth forecast from NanoMarkets comes true, Pragmatic will need to scale very quickly to begin capturing meaningful market share.

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