What Are Printed Electronics?
Printed electronics (PE) are electronics made by printing conductive inks and semiconductive inks onto a variety of substrates. These substrates are usually plastic, though glass and metal substrates are sometimes also used. Other substances, like encapsulants and dielectric (insulating) inks, may also be printed onto these substrates.
Functionally, printed electronics work in much the same way as traditionally manufactured electronics, and they can be connected using the same terminals.
Various printing techniques can be used to create printed electronics. These techniques include:
- Screen printing
- Inkjet printing
Here, at General Label, we use roll-to-roll screen printing to manufacture printed electronics. This printing technique gives us the flexibility to create complex circuits while still allowing us to rapidly manufacture parts to scale.
Ready to get started on your next printed electronics project?
Benefits of Printed Electronics
Printed electronics have a number of advantages over their conventionally manufactured counterparts. Some of the most notable are:
- The ability to print onto flexible materials
- Lower costs
- Better scalability
- Greater customizability
- Reduced environmental impact
First, the printing process allows us to create electronic circuits on thin, flexible substrates. This enables manufacturers to create circuits on curved or otherwise oddly-shaped components. Our screen printing techniques mean that we can rapidly manufacture electronic parts that precisely meet tolerances, even on flexible materials.
This, in turn, creates an unprecedented level of customizability. Printed electronics are used in IoT devices, displays, wearable devices, and more. The precision of our roll-to-roll screen printing technique allows us to create intricate circuitry on incredibly small surfaces.
Printed electronic technologies also allow us to benefit from economies of scale. Once your part is designed, our roll-to-roll printers allow us to quickly and precisely replicate the design at scale. The inks used in printed electronics are typically more affordable than the materials traditionally used to build electronics. Additionally, the work is less labor-intensive. The thin substrates used may also be less expensive (as there’s less material).
This means that the more units you print, the lower the cost per unit will be. We recommend printed electronics for many high-volume runs.
Inks and dielectric layers are printed directly onto the substrate; this leads to substantially less waste than traditional electronics manufacturing techniques. Printed electronics are more environmentally friendly.
Where Are Printed Electronics Used?
Printed electronics are used across all industries, with a particular focus on:
- Wearable technology
- Internet of Things (IoT) devices
- Consumer devices
- Transportation and logistics
The basis of almost any electronic device is the printed circuit board (PCB). Printed electronics technology makes manufacturing printed circuit boards easier, and more complex circuits can be created on smaller and more oddly-shaped substrates. This is why printed electronics have proliferated across almost all industries. Other components, including printed batteries, sensors, antennas, and more can be created.
Wearable Technologies and Consumer Devices
Printed electronics are both lightweight and customizable, which makes them a perfect fit for wearable technologies like smartwatches. These watches can connect to the internet with Wi-Fi—small network interface controllers can be made using electronic printing techniques.
Very large consumer devices are also made using printed electronics. The most notable of these may be OLED (organic light-emitting diode) TVs. These TVs are created by printing organic substances into complex pixels and by printing thin-film transistors (TFTs). OLED TVs can even have flexible displays.
Internet of Things (IoT) Devices
The boom in IoT devices may not have been possible without printed electronics. OEMs needed small, sleek, and customizable sensors, circuits and antennas to integrate into devices as small as light bulbs.
Before printed electronics, these parts would all need to be manufactured separately, then integrated together. With printed electronics, sensors, circuits, and antennas can all be integrated together on a single small, flexible substrate. Printed electronics are integral to smart homes, smart cities, and more.
Healthcare OEMs, in particular, stand to benefit from printed electronic technologies. Flexible, wearable circuits and sensors integrated into electronic skin patches can be used to monitor a patient’s vital signs, all while reducing overhead costs. Wearable technologies like smartwatches can be used to monitor a person’s vitals when they’re not in a clinic.
Flexible printed heaters can be integrated into back and neck braces. Printed antennas can be integrated into wearable healthcare technology to transmit information to a patient’s healthcare team remotely. Healthcare OEMs should consider how small, flexible printed circuits and electronics can improve patient care.
Transportation and Logistics
Printed electronic technologies have also been integral to improvements in the transportation and logistics industry. Packages can be equipped with printed sensors to ensure that temperature, humidity, and other environmental factors remain within regulatory standards.
Printed sensors, antennas, and circuits can all be printed together in order to communicate with other devices. This makes tracking thousands of items across vast distances much simpler and enables greater communication between these devices. Security is also improved, as temperatures, location, and other factors are constantly monitored by ultra-thin printed electronics.
Roll-to-roll screen printing is our preferred technique for creating printed electronic technologies. With this technique, we get:
- Economies of scale
- High replicability
- Quick turnaround
- Lower costs
Substrate is fed through rollers. Prepared screens are pressed onto the substrate as it rolls through, quickly printing complex patterns and integrating them together into complete printed sensors and circuits. The technique allows us to print electronics with a high degree of precision and speed.
At General Label, we pride ourselves on the techniques we’ve honed to create high-quality printed electronics with excellent repeatability and precision. Our roll-to-roll screen printing technique allows us to manufacture your parts quickly, and at scale. Whether you want printed sensors, printed circuits, fully realized electronic parts, or other printed electronic technologies, we can help.
From design to manufacturing, when it comes to printed electronics, General Label does it all. Bring your product to the next level with printed electronics technology. Contact us today.
Roll to Roll Finishing:
In addition to Roll to Roll screen printing, General Label can provide roll to roll finishing on printed electronics. Many of our customers either do roll to roll finishing (laminating, cutting, additive components) or subcontract the finishing steps out. General Label offers full finishing on our Delta Mod press which has six lamination and cutting stations in addition to an in-line laser. When it comes to printed….and finished electronics, please consider General Labels capabilities and expertise to help with your project.