Disruptive Technology - Dangers and Opportunities
by Philip Stoten
Nov 08, 2005
This was the title of the second morning session on the last day of the IPC/EIPC event in Berlin.
How often do you hear the terms 'danger' and 'opportunity' used in the same sentence? This wasn't even the first time this week. Well, having listened to this morning's programme it all looked a lot more like opportunity to me...
As a footnote - the collaboration between EIPC and IPC has been a great success in Berlin, and in a spirit of international cooperation, something we would all like to see more of between the industry's associations, I hope we will see this kind of event become a regular part of our calendar...
So, the presentations...
Printed Electronics - Threat or Opportunity? Opportunity I think!
The first paper was delivered by Barry Ben-Ezra, Orbotech's Corporate Director of Business Development, who seemed to understand the need to wake a subdued audience from their hangovers and inspire them to listen and take note. He managed to do just that with a presentation that was both entertaining and informative.
His paper entitled 'Printed Electronics - Threat or Opportunity?', yes I know, was designed to convince the audience that this technology was a major new industry in the making, and that it was a technology that was getting closer to market. His premise was that the PCB industry was well positioned to be involved and indeed at the forefront of this industry.
Barry outlined some of the exciting opportunities that Printed Electronics provides. The visionaries of this new industry forecast a future in which we will use a multitude of objects with highly integrated electronics. This grand vision is often called "Ambient Intelligence" or "The Internet of Things". This, Barry says, will be made possible by the convergence of Printing and Electronics technologies, applying high-volume printing techniques to directly deposit electronic materials on plastic or paper substrates.
Barry went on to explain the history and technical side of the concept, before returning to the business case for this technology. He explained that more than 1,000 entities are developing a wide range of technology and products. The products will typically exhibit new levels of integration of electronics into objects, utilising flexibility and lack of silicon as key elements.
In conclusion, Barry is clearly from the 'opportunity' side of the argument. As he puts it "something real is happeningĂ˘?? Significant applications, markets, investments. But there are still some years to go until there are major products in the market.
Barry concluded with some strategic questions:
-- What will the first printed electronics products be?
-- When will which product become a volume product?
-- Who will manufacture them?
-- At what price will they sell?
-- What technology and know-how is required to manufacture such products?
Whatever the first products will be, there is very little chance that they will replace existing electronic circuitry. The first products will create new businesses, and often for companies that have not been involved in electronics before.
The technology companies will solve the problems of interaction between material, substrate and deposition systems, but mainly in the lab. No matter when and what, in order to move to volume production, a major effort will be needed, and major understanding of the complexities of manufacturing such products with good yields and qualityĂ˘??
Sounds like PCB manufacturers business, doesn't it?
Massively Integrated Digital Printing
Next up, flying the flag of a 'brave new world', was Neil Chilton, Technical Director of Circatex. Apart from being Director of a European PCB manufacturer, Neil also has a PhD in semiconductor physics, making him ideally placed to discuss the integration of inkjet printing into electronic applications.
Before launching into his presentation, Neil dealt with some realities of the industry. Europe and the US have already lost high volume PCB manufacturing, and as a result of the high quality and low cost of Asia it would not return. Quality is a given, wherever production is carried out. A weak dollar has made it even harder for Europe to compete. Harsh words, but all true.
From this, Neil concludes that service is a key element - 24 hour prototypes, 72 hours for medium volume and 5 days as standard. All this and at competitive prices - surely not.
This can only be achieved by reducing the length of the manufacturing process, reducing the number of steps and eliminating scrap. To do this we need to be radical, this is what is truly meant by disruptive technologies. Inkjet printing, says Neil, offers the potential, and although the process is immature, it may be the answer.
Neil went on to explain the steps in inner layer print that could be removed using inkjet technology, exploring how the process could be hugely reduced - even gazing further into the future where it may be possible to inkjet conductive tracks.
Clearly relationships are necessary to bring such a revolutionary technology to market, and Circatex has these relationships. Partnerships have been developed with inkjet head developers, ink manufacturers, hardware integrators, image manipulators and others.
Following some detail on the technology and its performance, Neil concluded with his vision of the factory of the future, where products with added value, such as batteries, OLEDs, Photonics, passives and RFiDs are made. A factory where fast on-time delivery is the norm.
Both Neil and Barry presented ideas of the future that present exciting opportunities to European PCB makers, and perhaps to those in the USA. This is an exceptionally important part of this kind of event; this kind of melting pot of ideas will doubtless bring about some lively discussion, and hopefully collaborations that will result in innovation and creativity, two things those in Europe need to employ to survive further and even succeed in the harsh global PCB marketplace...