Printed Electronics Applications and Innovations

February 5, 2019 Judy Warner

The use of printed electronics is on the rise, and Chris Hunrath from Insulectro is here to talk about how to design for it. Learn about the different applications and design possibilities that are available to PCB designers. The proliferation of more advanced printed electronics materials from polyester film, polycarbonate, to transfer film for fabric and flexible circuitry have enabled interesting new applications for printed electronics. Listen in to learn the latest from Chris Hunrath, an expert in material supplies for circuit board design.

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Show Highlights:

  • Insulectro has seen a significant growth in sales of printed electronics products, this is an area of massive growth.
  • Printed Electronics have traditionally been used in RFID along with metal foils such as anti-theft devices and security access cards - items with conductive inks and membrane touch switches, for example: coffee makers, dishwashers, rear window defoggers, etc.
  • Interesting new applications include: glucose test strips, wearables - sensors of all kinds, automotive, and self darkening windows.
  • Self darkening windows are used in skyscrapers and airplanes, silver conductive ink, placing current on the window, giving the user control and saving energy.
  • Printed Electronics is a high-growth area: business doubled every year in the past five years, doing very well in both substrates and inks.
  • Predominant applications driving this uptick in usage: Capacitive Touch switching, in general it saves costs, lighter in weight and has no moving (i.e. car dashboards: a lot of work being done on it today) makes it more reliable.
  • The molded structure: print the matte side and ink moves with plastic when molding, circuitry is totally encapsulated in the injection molding process.
  • Ink technology: silver  is used and is cheaper than gold and more conductive; silver flake or conductive particles make it possible to have the ink move with the plastic.
  • Insulectro offers materials for Printed Electronics, some examples: polyester film - trade name Mylar and other brands, polycarbonate, transfer film for fabric and flexible circuitry in wearables.
  • What’s the difference between conventional and printed electronics? Conductivity, and Resistance - know the sheet resistance and use a comparable copper thickness and width.
  • Altium 19 and Tactotek, who do in-mold structural electronics are working on relative design features in Altium.
  • Printed Electronics whiteboard video
  • There are inks that can sense chemistry and can be ion selective i.e. blood glucose, natural gas, carbon monoxide and so forth,
  • Applications in wearables: Neural bypass, can pick up nerve impulses, movement sensors, chemistry sensors and more, and can withstand several washings.
  • Higher silver loading inks can be used in many different applications.
  • Chris shows an example of printed antenna that uses silver inks.
  • Can be used in materials that you couldn’t use in a traditional PCB process.  
  • Conductive ink kits for children - you can draw conductive inks with a pen.
  • Chris shows an example of substrate with high temperature ink, that has a 500-degree operating temperature.
  • Events where you can see examples at the Insulectro booth: IPC Apex in San Diego, DesignCon in Santa Clara and Insulectro typically at IT TechEX.
  • Conductive adhesive is more ideal for components, soldering to printed electronics is very delicate.
  • Screen printing is the main way to print and is very scalable.
  • Printed electronics is easier and cheaper to get started and environmentally more friendly.
  • Stay posted for more developments in this exciting field!

Links and Resources:

Tactotek IMSE / Printed Electronics Podcast

Altium Printed Electronics whiteboard video


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About the Author

Judy Warner

Judy Warner has held a unique variety of roles in the electronics industry since 1984. She has a deep background in PCB Manufacturing, RF and Microwave PCBs and Contract Manufacturing with a focus on Mil/Aero applications in technical sales and marketing.

She has been a writer, contributor and journalist for several industry publications such as Microwave Journal, The PCB Magazine, The PCB Design Magazine, PDCF&A and IEEE Microwave Magazine and is an active member of multiple IPC Designers Council chapters.

In March 2017, Warner became the Director of Community Engagement for Altium and immediately launched Altium’s OnTrack Newsletter.
She led the launch of AltiumLive: Annual PCB Design Summit, a new and annual Altium User Conference.

Judy's passion is to provide resources, support and to advocate for PCB Designers around the world.

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