Printout for the future

New IEC TC for new technology

By Morand Fachot

Printed electronics is a relatively new technology that uses an additive process to create a variety of electronic components and systems. It is rapidly advancing from research and inventions into production and mass market. Calls for standardization in this sector by the industry led to the creation of IEC TC 119.

Expanding domain

The fast rising global demand for relatively low-cost consumer electronic goods has stimulated the emergence of various technologies to support this market. Producing conventional electronics using silicon-based components is costly and faces some environmental issues making it necessary to find other technologies.

Using additive manufacturing processes some producers have started printing electronic parts and components on rigid or flexible substrates.

Printing techniques are often similar to those used in conventional printing, such as offset, screen printing, flexography or inkjet. Each of these techniques for printed electronics production has been developed over the previous decades with a wide choice of substrates and inks that allow an extensive and expanding range of products. It includes printed circuit boards, flexible displays, PV (photovoltaic) cells, lights, memory, sensors, RFID (radio frequency identification) and NFC (near field communication) systems, to name only a few.

Huge market emerging

The demand for new kinds of electronic goods and the variety of low-cost products made possible by printing electronics and the range of printing techniques and materials point to a very large market.

Over 3 000 companies are currently active in the printed electronics domain, most of them in North America, East Asia and Europe.

Need for standardization

Since the focus has been shifting in recent years from developing printed electronics technologies to manufacturing products, the need for standardization has emerged. A proposal to establish a standardization body for the printed electronics was presented at Printed Electronics Europe 2011, the largest trade event in Europe for the industry. The proposal indicated the IEC was the most suitable organization for the standardization of printed electronics since the technology intends to develop mainly electronic and electric devices. Organizations such as the OE-A (Organic and Printed Electronics Association), the leading international industry association for the industry strongly supported the proposal.

TC 119: Printed electronics, was established in October 2011, it currently has 11 participating members and 7 observer members. Its creation was welcomed by the industry with OE-A stating “The OE-A has been supporting IEC TC 119 from the start”.

Systems approach with other TCs

Since printed electronics emerged from conventional electronics by introducing printing technologies in the industry, the need to cooperate with pre-existing electronics sectors and IEC TCs is obvious. TC 119 earmarked the following IEC TCs concerned:

  • TC 21: Secondary cells and batteries
  • TC 34: Lamps and related equipment
  • TC 40: Capacitors and resistors for electronic equipment
  • TC 47: Semiconductor devices
  • TC 82: Solar photovoltaic energy systems
  • TC 91: Electronics assembly technology
  • TC 110: Electronic display devices
  • TC 113: Nanotechnology standardization for electrical and electronic products and systems .


TC 119 outlined its objectives for the medium term (3-5 years). They include, among other things:

  • developing an international standardization roadmap for printed electronics to define the scope of printed electronics
  • promoting and streamlining standardization efforts in the areas where marketing is under way
  • identifying standardization needs in the areas where new technologies are emerging
  • helping standardize technologies from the research stage.

Multiple domains

To cover the standardization of printed electronics TC 119 is setting up WGs (Working Groups) to deal with terminology, materials (functional materials and substrates), processes, equipment used for printing processes, printability assessment, parts, devices and products, and health/safety/environment issues.

The fast growing nature of the printed electronics sector, new techniques and materials and the absence of standardization for the industry so far point to a substantial workload for the recently created TC 119.

Flexible printed circuit electronics are produced on... Flexible printed circuit electronics are produced on...
...machines such as this ESC-ATMAGP screen printer (Photo: Europa-Siebdruckmaschinen-Centrum) ...machines such as this ESC-ATMAGP screen printer (Photo: Europa-Siebdruckmaschinen-Centrum)
...using conductive inks (Photo: DuPont) ...using conductive inks (Photo: DuPont)