The Printable Electronics Opportunity in Canada

Beyond Silicon. What’s next?

A sheet of paper that displays video and plays audio. Biometrics to monitor your health, built into a shirt or even a disposable band-aid. Smart labels on packaging that react to environmental changes.

Not so long ago, this was the stuff of science fiction. With advances in Printable Electronics (PE), these kinds of products will be available to the average consumer within a few years.

PE combines new materials with cost-effective, large area production processes that open up new fields of application. Conventional printing processes, such as screen-printing, flexography, gravure, offset lithography, and inkjet, are used to deposit conductive inks onto a variety of flexible substrates, such as plastics, papers and fabrics.

The result is a whole new world of electronics that are low cost and consume little power. They can be disposable, biodegradable, flexible, and even edible and stretchable.

PE overcomes many of the shortcomings that typify rigid silicon-based electronics, and they can be easily mass-produced. PE promises to be a key foundational component of the so-called Internet of Things, as more and more of the items, tools and devices in our daily lives become wirelessly connected.

Some PE components are already all around us. These include the biosensors in the disposable glucose test strips used by diabetes patients, embedded antennas for mobile devices and touch displays.

According to research firm IDTechEx, the global market for printed and potentially printable electronics, including organics, inorganics and composites, will rise from about US$24 billion in 2014 to $70.4 billion in 2024, with a compound annual growth rate of 40 per cent. Those amounts jump dramatically when you include the total market value of the products that do, and could, incorporate PE components.

Canada and Canadian firms can stand on the sidelines of this market, or make smart investments and take advantage of an explosive opportunity.

Where is that opportunity? Key challenges remain to develop new materials, micro-circuits, manufacturing equipment and processes, and information systems that connect PE-enabled devices or objects, to realize the full potential of PE. Government organizations, startups, OEMs and systems integrators around the world are investing billions of dollars in R&D to revolutionize existing products and create new ones with PE. The potential applications are staggering, and impact a host of market verticals.

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