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.
The research and consulting company IDTechEx expects the market to grow nearly 10-fold between 2013 and 2020 to exceed USD 55 billion.
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 more than 70 experts from 13 participating and 8 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 established liaisons with the following IEC TCs:
- TC 47: Semiconductor devices
- TC 91: Electronics assembly technology
- TC 110: Electronic display devices
- TC 113: Nanotechnology standardization for electrical and electronic products and systems
It is also considering establishing liaisons with the following IEC and ISO (International Organization for Standardization) TCs
- TC 21: Secondary cells and batteries
- TC 34: Lamps and related equipment
- TC 40: Capacitors and resistors for electronic equipment
- TC 56: Dependability
- TC 82: Solar photovoltaic energy systems
- ISO/TC 61: Plastics
TC 119 outlined its objectives for the medium term (3-5 years) in March 2014. They include:
- developing an international standardization roadmap for printed electronics to define the scope of printed electronics and document standardization issues in all the areas with priority level
- promoting and streamlining standardization efforts in the areas where marketing is under way
- identifying standardization needs in the areas where new technologies based on printing technologies are in incubation and helping standardize the technologies from the research stage
- helping the growth of the printed electronics industry and promoting the development of new technologies based on printing methods
- actively collaborating with other TCs and other academic/ industrial organizations.
To cover the standardization of printed electronics TC 119 has five WGs (Working Groups) to deal with terminology (WG 1), materials (functional materials and substrates - WG 2), equipment used for printing processes (WG 3), printability assessment (WG 4), quality assessment (WG 5). TC 119 also set up AhGs (ad hoc Groups) to look at printed products and at the printed electronics roadmap. 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.