Building an infrastructure for printed electronics
By Terry Costlow, IPC online editor
Jul 17, 2012
Standards, a dedicated road map and a management council are key elements in IPC's Printed Electronics Initiative. The efforts are coalescing as this new industry gathers steam.
Over the next few years, it's likely that laminates will finally have a rival as the mainstay of substrates for electronics. Printed electronic technologies show the
promise of turning into a full industry, one that's extremely diverse and inexpensive enough to move into extremely high volumes.
The additive processes used for years to create niche products have matured to the point that many observers are lumping them together as printed electronics. A vast range of conductive inks and other materials can be printed onto materials as diverse as metal, glass, ceramics and organic materials including paper.
However, for this technology to become a standalone industry, it must have some commonalities that help build a structure. System designers need to have guidelines, and both material and equipment suppliers can benefit from standards that let them focus their development programs.
IPC determined several years ago that its experience with printed circuits could help the trade association serve as one of the catalysts that can help fuel this industry's growth. That growth could be huge, with some analysts predicting sales will be close to $10 billion by the end of this decade.
Realizing that a few standards wouldn't be enough to support an startup industry with that kind of growth, IPC began its Printed Electronics Initiative. It includes a number of standards and the establishment of a management council.
The IPC Printed Electronics Management Council Steering Committee, established late last year, will provide a forum for vendors to discuss issues and help develop tools and studies that will help members better understand what's going on in the marketplace.
A subcommittee has been established to create a focused technology roadmap for printed electronics. Members determined that this new industry is maturing too quickly to be adequately reported as a small section within IPC's biennial Technology Roadmap for conventional electronics. The first roadmap is tentatively scheduled to reach final draft form in July 2012.
The Initiative also includes four standards that will serve as stair steps to help vendors push the technology to the next level. One is already completed. IPC-4921, Requirements for Printed Electronics Base Materials (Substrates), provides specifications for five basic material categories for substrates: ceramic, organic, metal, glass and other. Though it's only recently gone to publication, committee members are already asking for input for its first revision.
Three other standards are racing towards completion. One, which will provide guidelines for designers of printed electronics, is already in draft form.
Another focuses on functional materials that include the inks and other materials needed to create completed circuits. It's currently in its public comment period, so a finalized version is likely to be out later this year.
The fourth committee is developing acceptability standards for completed assemblies. This document will help customers and suppliers find common ground for determining quality levels and other parameters needed to ensure that end products meet their required goals.
All the IPC efforts are advancing with an eye towards helping the industry on a global basis. IPC has joined with the Japan Electronics Packaging and Circuits Association, which will be releasing IPC-4921 and subsequent documents as IPC/JPCA Joint Standards. For more information, contact Marc Carter, IPC director of technology transfer, at +1 847-597-2826.