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Printed, Hybrid, and InMold Electronics: Innovation and Market Trends(I)

In the first part of this article series, TechBlick highlights promising innovation and market trends in Printed, Hybrid, and InMold Electronics. All trends highlighted in this article will be discussed by the key players in the field in TechBlick's upcoming interactive online conference and exhibition taking place on 10-11 March 2021 and covering Printed, Flexible, Hybrid and InMold Electronics. The compelling speaker line-up includes leading global organizations such as JCDecaux, GE Research, Fiat, Jones Healthcare, Geely Design, SWAROVSKI, Jabil, Eastman Kodak, Coatema, Suunto, Evonik, Heraeus, Fujikura Kasei, Information Mediary Corp, Copprint, ChemCubed, Voltera, Nano Dimension, Optomec, TactoTek, Arburg, Covestro, InnovationLab, PolyPhotonix, LPKF, Lightworks, NRCC, and many more (for further information and a full agenda visit TechBlick organizes LIVE online conferences at approximately 4-week intervals. Each conference will consist of approx 40 speakers organized as two LIVE sessions. With a single Annual Pass you can access past and future events as well as masterclasses. Upcoming events include:

  • 10 & 11 March: Printed, Flexible, Hybrid, and InMold Electronics (I)

  • 14 & 15 April: Graphene, 2D Materials, and Carbon Nanotubes

  • 11 & 12 May: Printed, Flexible, Hybrid, and InMold Electronics (II)

  • 11 & 12 May: Quantum Dots: Material Innovation and Emerging Applications

  • 15 & 16 June: Innovations and Trends in Displays and Lighting: OLEDs, Flexible, Printed, microLED, and beyond

  • 14 & 15 July: Skin Patches, Wearables, E-Textiles, and Stretchable Electronic

Electronic Packaging and Printed Electronics

The semiconductor and the electronic packaging industries are booming. The image below showcases some use cases of printed electronics in electronic packaging. The most common use has been in vias, especially thermal vias, filled with conductive, i.e., mainly Cu, pastes. Another growing use case is the adoption of sintered metal die attach materials (e.g., Ag or Cu), especially in high power applications such as SiC power electronics or GaN power amplifiers in 5G. There is a worldwide push nowadays to replace PVD (sputtering) with spray or inkjetted conformal EMI coatings. These paste-based PVD-alternatives show much higher throughput per hour and a much lower upfront capital cost. Today, the inks have improved adhesion, lower thickness to reduce cost and show laser markings, better top-to-side coating uniformity, etc. Aerosol is also targeting electronic packaging. It can replace long wire bonds with shorter interconnects, driving down parasitic inductive and thus boosting performance at high RF frequencies. Last but not the least, printing is being used to prototype redistribution layers (RDL). If and when coupled with emerging ultrahigh resolution printing techniques, this can become an excellent RDL-prototyping tool, potentially event meeting the pitch and linewidth requirements. Semi-additive processes are also playing a part. Laser direct structuring (LDS) can enable selective metallization atop epoxy mold compounds, enabling antenna-on-package for mmWave packages as well as area-selective package-level EMI shielding. TechBlick's interactive online conference and exhibition on 10-11 March 2021 covers these trends in detail. Here, the invited speakers cover all these trends and include Fujikura Kasei, Heraeus, LPKF, Nano Dimension, Optomec, Kuprion, and others.

Examples of conformal coating in the electronic industry including on-case antennas, wire bond replacement, and package-level EMI shielding. Source:

InMold Electronics: Major success not far off

InMold Electronics has a compelling value proposition: combining two high throughput processes to structurally integrate electronics into 3D parts. This process has been in development for over a decade. The learning curve in terms of material, process, and application development has been steep. Nonetheless, applications have already appeared on the market and adoption in interior and exterior of automotive is not far off. The material set is arguably ready. Many offer an IME-compatible portfolio of pastes including conductive inks, dielectrics and overpasses, graphic inks, conductive adhesives, and so on. Polycarbonate is the incumbent material of choice, but PET is also receiving good attention when lower costs and low formability are required. Process development has also come a long way. The yields have now improved and the prototype-to-volume production know-how now exists. In our virtual interactive conference and exhibition on 10-11 March 2021 you will hear LIVE from all the key players including end users from the automotive and consumer electronic sectors (FIAT, Geely, Suunto), process developers and mass producers (TactoTek and Arburg), substrate and lighting developers (Covestro, Lightworks), and IME-compatible transparent heater and touch sensor providers (Canatu).

Examples of IME products and prototypes. Source:

PCB printing and 3D printed electronics

PCB printing and 3D printing are both hot topics. TechBlick highlights this trend by giving multiple examples. Voltera has designed a desktop-sized all-in-one solution. Here, the digitally-control printer lays down the solderable conductive traces to metallize the board. The system will map the location of solder pads and dispense the solder. The SMDs are then mounted before the tool reflows the solder. Nano Dimension offers a turnkey solution. It digitally prints Ag nanoparticles as well as dielectric photopolymers. By alternating between these two layers, it can build multi-layer circuits or PBCs on non-flat substrates. It is increasingly positioned as a platform technology that can be used in rapid prototyping and low-volume production of PCBs, electronic circuits, and beyond. Nano Dimension raised more than $650m in Q4 2020. This will give the company the war chest needed to develop or acquire technologies that will sustain its technology roadmap and in particular increase the throughput and improve the cost position of its 3D PCB printers.

ChemCubed is a U.S. based manufacturer of materials and printing solutions for 3D printing / Additive Manufacturing. Their turnkey Electrojet 3D printer can digitally print Ag inks and UV curable dielectronic and do inline heat and UV curing. Their machine offers 1440 dpi resolution with an 8-channel inkjet, enabling simultaneous multi-material, multi-layer printing of electronic circuits and components.

Neotech AMT GmbH is a leading player developing 3D printed electronic machines. They have developed a 5-axis motion control system enabling complex 3D printing. Their equipment portfolio covers the full range from rapid prototyping to high volume production.

All these firms will be presenting at TechBlick's interactive online conference and exhibition on 10-11 March 2021.

Other Interesting Innovation Trends

  • Flexible Hybrid Electronics: This is an exciting frontier, combining the best of non-printed and printed electronics. Here, the trend is towards high-throughput R2R manufacturing of picked-and-placed flexible ICs into PET substrates using low-T die or IC attach materials. In our 10-11 March 2021 conference, we have invited two major developers of this technology: Jabil and GE Research. In a subsequent conference on 14-15 May 2021, we cover all aspects with speakers such as Arm, Panasonic, CEA, Alpha Assembly, CPI, CondAlign, Identiv, etc. With a single Annual Pass you can join all our conference.

  • Copper Inks: Ag inks are expensive and sensitive to Ag prices, which can fluctuates as demonstrated recently by silver’s Reddit price surge. Copper is the natural alternative. However, the need to prevent oxidization and the usually lower conductivity of copper pastes (vs Ag) have held them back. These days, however, innovations in copper inks are overcoming these shortcomings. In particular, two companies are setting the standards: Copprint and PrintCB. The former has developed the below chart, claiming that it can offer rapid-sinter highly-conductive Cu inks.

  • To learn more you can join our online event series starting on 10-11 March 2021 with an Annual Pass giving you access to past and future events as well as upcoming masterclasses.

  • Smart Packaging: This was always the dream, but the realities of small margins and the complexity of adding printed functionality have hindered the development. However, the tide seems to be turning with low-cost metallization, flexible hybrid electronics, NFC, and other trends. In particular, there is success in pharmaceutical and medical packaging already. We have invited two successful end users to 10-11 March 2021 online conference to showcase their progress on printed electronics in smart packaging: Jones Healthcare Group and Information Mediary Corp.

  • High-precision roll-to-roll printing: This is one of the most interesting trends in printed electronics. I recall when I started with printed electronics some 12 years ago, achieving 18-20um linewidth using R2R printing was considered an accomplishment. Now companies have developed <<10um processes with some even pushing the boundaries to sub-micron-meter range. A good example that combines high-resolution and high-throughput is Kodak’s R2R high-resolution flexography printing. This technique has been deployed to process copper micro-wire patterns on flexible substrates used for transparent RF devices, such as antennas and EMI shields. To learn more join our LIVE but online conference series with an Annual Pass.

  • High volume roll-to-roll medical sensor production: R2R printed electronics has many commercial success stories. A recent example that we highlight in our 10-11 March 2021 conference is based on the work by InnovationLab GmbH together with Bausch. This collaboration has resulted in the development and commercialization of a R2R-printed sensors based on piezoresistive arrays that enables users to capture a patient’s teeth topography.

  • Digitization of R2R printing: Digitization is affecting every aspect of life including R2R printed electronics. A good example is by Coatema Coating Machinery GmbH who is now beginning to integrate digital printing into their analog R2R machines. Importantly, Coatema is moving their equipment into Industry 4.0 era by offering inline control using sensors, camera systems and AI.

  • Printed Polymer-Only Secondary Batteries: One innovation is by Evonik who has developed a printable polymer-only rechargeable battery that can be integrated into various production lines, offering design freedom, flexibility of use, and scalable production. This is a unique and promising approach because it is a secondary battery whose dimensions can be customized by the manufacturer itself to fit specific performance requirements of the application. Evonik will also be presenting during our 10-11 March 2021 conference, which is accessible with a single Annual Pass.

  • Printed perovskite photovoltaics: Perovskites have been a breath of fresh air in the photovoltaics industry, registering a meteoric rise in efficiency over the past few years. Interestingly, there is now significant effort to print perovskite solar cells. One company that is spearheading the development of inkjet-printed perovskite is Saule Technologies. At our conference on 10-11 March 2021 they will describe the first commercial applications of flexible printed perovskite solar modules.

  • Transparent Heaters: There are very few good solutions for transparent large-area heaters. In our conference we highlight two promising approaches.

  • One approach is developed by Printable Electronics Research Centre China (PERC). They emboss trenches into a film, which then they fill a with an Ag seed layer before using plating to fill the trench. This way PERC obtains embedded ultra-narrow and ultra-conductive metal mesh, enabling low-voltage heating over very large areas.

  • Another approach is by Canatu who can coat and 3D form their proprietary carbon nanobuds. Their solution is lower conductivity compared to that of PERC, but can be molded into a 3D-shaped part, and is thus most suited for ADAS and Autonomous Driving perception sensors.

Examples of approaches towards transparent heaters. Source:

  • OLED light therapy: OLED lighting has experienced many challenges on its way towards commercialization. One success story however is in OLED-enabled sleep masks, launched by PolyPhotonix, to offer non-invasive and treatment for diabetic eye disease. This solution is an option for both late and early-stage prevention.

  • Printed Memory: Printed memory is a major missing piece in the menu of printed electronics building blocks. There have been attempts for decades to commercialize printed memory, with mixed results. However, new players are picking up the mantle. One example is Australian Advanced Materials (AAM) who is developing a transparent printed memory based on its so-called Nanocube Ink technology.

  • R2R Transistors: printing full thin film transistors (TFTs) was always a dream. The reality however has proved difficult given the interfacial nature of TFTs and given the required layer-to-layer alignment. There, however, continues to be noteworthy progress.

A good example is by the National Research Centre of Canada (NRCC). They have developed fully printed transistors based on high-purity SWCNTs combining R2R gravure and inkjet-printing capable of driving an e-paper display. This is an important advancement of the state-of-the-art.

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