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German Industry Association Gives Insight Into Emerging, Printed Electronics Market

There are numerous printed and organic technologies in development that are likely to yield a variety of applications, everything from flexible displays that enable high-res electronic posters and wallpaper to low-cost printed RFID tags instead of hard-wired circuitry that make item-level tracking and tracing a no-brainer. Still, it may be several years before any of these technologies make their way to commercial markets.

A new, free report from the Organic Electronics Association (OEA), a working group within the German Engineering Federation, forecasts on when these organic and printed applications as well as materials, substrates and pattern processes, will be generally available, as well as the parameters and principle challenges to their adoption, including the complexities, costs, operating voltages, expected efficiencies and more. The report also reviews recent progress in new materials and improved processes.

Organic and printed electronics leverage new materials and cost-effective, large-scale production processes that open up new fields of application, the OEA reports. They are thin, light-weight, flexible and environmentally friendly and include a range of electrical components, from organic light emitting diode (OLED) based lighting that requires less power but can achieve higher contrast ratios than traditional liquid crystal displays to thin batteries that can be printed on flexible substrates, including paper and labels. Equally important to the environmentally-friendly usage of organic and printed electronics is the ability to produce and directly integrate them in low-cost reel-to-reel processes, according to the OEA.

One application that's expected to gain from organic and printed electronics is RFID. RFID has been around for years, but only in the last six years or so has the technology gained any real market traction as a tool to help organizations track and trace assets, such as goods traversing the supply chain. Widespread use, particularly in tracking item-level goods, has been slowed because of production costs of RFID tags, which still cost in the neighborhood of ten cents per tag. Printed RFID tags have the logic circuit and memory printed on the basis of the organic or printed electronics platform technology, and the antenna can be either standard (e.g., etched copper or aluminum) or printed with conductive inks, the OEA says. Costs could drop to as low as one Euro cent per tag, the OEA says. Many experts agree that that RFID tags made with printed electronics are years away from widespread availability. The OEA reports in its report that 1-4 bit read-only memory (ROM) printed RFID tags will hit the market in 2011, and 32-64 bit ROM printed RFID tags will be available by 2014. However, printed RFID tags for high-frequency (HF) Electronic Product Code (EPC)-based applications won't be available until 2018, and printed RFID tags for ultra-high frequency (UHF) EPC-based applications--which are the likely tags of choice for item-level supply chains--won't be available until 2023, according to the OEA.

The 80-page OEA report, now in its third edition, includes information on organic photovoltaic cells (OPV), flexible displays, electroluminescent and OLED-based lighting, printed RFID, organic memory devices, organic sensors, flexible batteries, smart objects and smart textiles. The new edition continues the work started in previous versions but includes an updated discussion of the technical progress that has been made in the field since the last road map, including recent progress in improved materials and improved processes. The OEA road map is updated and expanded biannually.