Chemical sensors are used to detect and measure a variety of things, from temperature and humidity to pressure, light, sound, food freshness, and toxic gas. However, printed electronic Smart Labels go farther by integrating printed sensors with the other printed components, such as memory, display, or RF communications to fully leverage the cost advantages of printing. The entire printed electronic Smart Label consists of logic, memory, display, sensor, and battery. It sells for approximately the same price as a chemical sensor but is easier to read.
Printed Electronics deliver a number of business benefits. Smart Labels cost tens of cents, making them low-cost enough to attach to any item. The printing processes are far less cumbersome than silicon fabrication, thereby enabling quick development that speeds product time to market. Vendors will find that Printed Electronic processes will suit mass-market volume production and correspondingly low prices. The Smart Label is light, unobtrusive, and straightforward enough to attach almost anywhere, to an item or its packaging, and appropriate even for disposable products such as perishable foods.
They are durable and reliable; with non-volatile memory, Smart Labels will store data accurately for long periods of time under a wide range of conditions.
Printed electronic Smart Labels enable business efficiency and savings typically associated with silicon-based digital intelligence at a fraction of the price. Plus, the Smart Labels can be deployed on a massive scale as quickly and easily as attaching a product tag.
Initial use cases
The first use of Printed Electronics is for intelligent packaging for monitoring perishable goods, particularly food. It represents the first use of this ultra-low-cost electronic sensor label made possible by this new manufacturing approach.
Along the same lines, a second use case is pharmaceuticals. The ability to monitor the temperature along the entire supply chain will ensure the safety and the efficacy of each dose.
Future of Printed Electronics
Printed Smart Labels of various sorts can be envisioned for a wide range of products and use cases that have not previously feasible. These include blood oxygen monitoring, electronic alarm labels, and electronic shelf labels, to name only a few. Leading companies in Asia, North America, and Europe have begun planning the integration of Printed Electronics into their products, both to increase the value, and achieve product differentiation. As one industry observer noted: The next revolution in electronics technology has begun.
Heidi Arnesen is communications manager for Thin Film Electronics.