I was invited as the keynote speaker of Printable and Flexible Electronics, a two-day conference held at the Industrial Technology Research Institute (ITRI) in Taiwan. ITRI is a technology R&D institute offering a wide range of technical and business consultations. My presentation included current business trends and future forecast for the global printable and flexible electronics industry.
Those in attendance included executives from material companies, ink suppliers, PCB manufacturers, flex circuit manufacturers, packaging companies, and device and equipment manufacturers. My discussion was very engaging; several people remained after my presentation and were excited to talk about their new technologies. In fact, many of us agreed to continue talking shop at dinner later that night.
There were many interesting presentations at the conference. Some of them featured products that were already commercialized or very close to becoming commercialized. The first product was a silicone-based elastic flexible circuit. A silicone-based silver ink was screen-printed on transparent silicone rubber sheets, and a silicone coverlay was printed on the conductors. Because all of the materials were made with similar silicone-based resins, the elastic circuit provided a good mechanical balance, especially with bonding strength. Silicone rubber has had great success for use in medical devices and healthcare equipment. At first, silicone-based materials had an issue with bond strength, but the circuit manufacturers found a way to fix this problem.
The second product is a transparent flex circuit. Nowadays, several heat-resistant and transparent films (other than polyimide films) are available in the market. A few manufacturers currently commercialized thin copper laminates and are ready to process in standard etching lines. One issue remains with transparent conductors other than indium tin oxide (ITO). Circuit manufacturers are considering organic conductive molecules, silver nanowire inks, fine meshes from thin copper or silver ink, and more. This is not a fix just yet, but Taiwanese circuit manufacturers are producing actual transparent circuits by employing temporary solutions.
The most popular topic during the conference circled around mechanical sensors made by a screen-printing process. Several companies developed capacitance devices or piezo device as the screen-printable pressure sensors. One equipment manufacturer demonstrated a large pressure sensor array built on fabric substrates. The size of the sensor sheet can be two meters by one meter or larger, and it can measure the pressure distribution of beds or sofas. This can be valuable for the design of furniture and healthcare devices.
Creating new technologies and bringing them to market is not a new process for industrialized countries. The aggressiveness of executives from large companies plays a key role in creating next-generation products. The staff from some of the Taiwanese companies I spoke with during the conference extremely driven to create new business and technologies. This drive and collaboration along with a growing network translates to an extremely competitive electronics industry in Taiwan.
1. Tokyo and Osaka University (Japan) 3/28
Co-developed spintronics elements (CoFeB/MgO) on a flexible substrate and will increase the flexibility of flexible devices.
2. Taiwan Pucka (Flex circuit manufacturer in Taiwan) 3/28
Developed a new plating process to make the conductivity of the silver ink thick film circuit two orders higher.
3. NEC (Electronics company in Japan) 3/28
Developed a new high-speed inspection camera for manufacturing lines. The camera can take 1,000 frames per second, eliminating NG products from the lines.
4. JDA (Display panel manufacturer in Japan) 4/1
Will provide total solutions for the whole process of manufacturing plants, warehouses, and logistics.
5. Fujitsu (Electronics company in Japan) 4/1
Developed the world’s fastest deep-learning technology for AI Bridging Cloud Infrastructure installed at AIST in Japan.
6. Murata (Device manufacturer in Japan) 4/2
Developed the world’s smallest low-power wide-area (LPWA) package as the infrastructure of IoT systems.
7. Family Mart (Convenience store chain in Japan) 4/2
Will collaborate with Panasonic to develop the next generation of convenience stores with IoT technologies. The first pilot store has been opened in Kanagawa, Japan.
8. Denso (Car electronics company in Japan) 4/5
Will invest 180 billion yen for electronics R&D projects for the next three years to strengthen the development and manufacturing of prototyping and manufacturing.
9. Panasonic (Electronics company in Japan) 4/5
Started the field test of HD-PLC (power line communication), combining home appliances, such as refrigerators, microwaves, and air conditioners.
10. NTT DOCOMO (Telecommunication company in Japan) 4/8
Started the analysis service of the IoT manufacturing lines to improve productivity.
11. Toppan Printing (Printing company in Japan) 4/8
Will start the Toppan Secure Activate Service to establish the security of the IoT equipment.
Dominique K. Numakura is the managing director of DKN Research LLC.