The technology for printed electronics has been around for a long time, yet this very practical technology hasn’t exactly taken off. The method, which adds extremely thin layers of materials at a time, is generally used for small electronics, such as hearing aids, or 3D models.
One of the reasons the method has lagged is a lack of standards. The IPC and the JPCA hope to resolve that particular issue through the release of the first operational-level standard for the rapidly evolving printed electronics industry. The IPC/JPCA-4921, Requirements for Printed Electronics Base Materials (Substrates), defines terms and establishes basic requirements for five material categories of substrates used today in printed electronics — ceramic, organic, metal, glass, and other.
For printed electronics to become a standalone industry, it must have some commonalities that help build a structure, according to IPC Director of Technology Transfer Marc Carter. “The availability of this standard provides a common language for designers, equipment makers and manufacturers. System designers need to have guidelines, and both material and equipment suppliers can benefit from standards that let them focus their development programs,” he said in a press release.
Some analysts predict printed electronics is an industry that will see an estimated $20 billion to $30 billion in sales by the end of this decade. The technology can be used to build the inner layers of a circuit board, to develop printed electronic active components, to investigate advanced automotive applications, or to design low-cost displays for portable computing and mobile applications.
According to the Wall Street Journal, companies such as Boeing are beginning to develop the technology for use in larger products. Organic light-emitting diode (OLED) displays are manufactured in a manner similar to printing: LED inks are sprayed on to glass or another surface. The technology is also used in the manufacturing of solar panels.
The diversity of materials has been one of the greatest challenges impeding the industry’s growth, says Carter. “It’s difficult to grasp the breadth of opportunities when a range of materials can be printed onto various substrates to produce from very simple electronic circuits to the highly complex.”
As the printed electronics industry continues to grow and as its manufacturing processes, inks, and substrates continue to improve, IPC/JPCA-4921 may have to be updated more frequently than other industry standards, according to the IPC.