Printed Electronics in Perspective


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Printed electronics have garnered a significant amount of press coverage over the last several years. What appears to have precipitated the explosion of interest in the middle of the last decade was a report that suggested that printed electronics would dominate electronic production by the mid-2020s with an annual market of over $300 billion. $300 billion is a big number and it not surprisingly captured a lot of attention. Since that announcement there has been a significant paring down of the market expectations to a number closer to one quarter the one projected earlier. It is, one can perhaps safely assume, an acknowledgement of the persistence of incumbent technologies. It seems clear to many knowledgeable observers that the potential of printed electronics was much more modest than early projections, but as Yogi Berra observed and has been often quoted, “Predictions are hard to make, especially about the future.”

The hyperbole surrounding the reports released in 2007 was met with some bemusement by those such as this writer, who having been first been involved in what would be called direct write printed electronics startup (using today’s broader definition) in 1990 had a different perception of the technology’s “newness.” Moreover, as one seeking to give credit where credit is due, it should be evident (if one puts in a bit of effort and does a little digging) that printed electronics is a technology that is arguably more than six decades old, thus predating my earlier company’s efforts by some 35 years.

The very first printed electronic circuits were called printed circuits because they were exactly that…printed, using conductive and resistive inks. Moreover, Xerox’s technology (then called the Haloid-Xerox Company) was applied to printing etch-resistant films for circuit production in the  mid-1950s and more than 45 years ago, there was demonstration of a printed transistor in roll-to-roll fashion by Westinghouse.

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Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the August 2014 issue of SMT Magazine.

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