Flexible and Printed Electronics in 2017 – Numerous Applications for Hybrid Electronics

Hybrid electronics kept being on the rise in 2017. Numerous applications will benefit from this recent technology in the future, including sensors and displays.

printed electronics

Image source cover photo: Messe Düsseldorf / ctillmann

The number of applications for flexible and printed electronics is steadily increasing. This is no wonder since they might change our lives and improve user experience significantly. Hybrid electronics, merging the advantages of silicon-based technologies with printing or other low-cost manufacturing processes, are increasingly desired and helping many new products to approach mainstream.

One of the most recognised examples of hybrid electronics are sensors. These are now entering more commercial and industrial areas such as medical, automotive, aerospace, cosmetics, packaging and many more. According to this, Malcolm Thompson from NextFlex, America’s Flexible Hybrid Electronics Institute, states that he

“would say there’s tremendous growth in both the number and diversity of applications for sensors“.

Sensors are able to monitor temperature, humidity and other characteristics – ensuring good quality and product authenticity.

Innovative Technology Becomes Customer-Friendly

L’Oréal, one of the five largest beauty businesses in the world, has recently provided a convincing example of the applicability of sensors. Their product “My UV Patch” is a stretchable skin sensor which monitors UV absorption. Reportedly, the patch has been sold more than a million times so far. Guive Balooch, global vice president of L’Oréal’s Technology Incubator, speculates about the reason for the high demand:

“My UV Patch unites innovative technology with L’Oréal’s extensive scientific research on skin and La Roche-Posay’s mission to increase consumers’ sun-safe behaviours.”

La Roche-Posay is L’Oréal’s skincare brand and provides the patch for free when purchasing one of their sunscreen.

At least part of the success of the My UV Patch might be due to its customer-friendly appearance. L’Oréal has achieved to create a wearable that does not interfere with the user’s daily routine. Because of its comfortable, flexible and thin character it does not have to be taken on and off and behaves like a second skin. As the awareness for the impact of sunlight rises more and more, such patch is a practical way to monitor UV absorption.

New Chances in Various Technological Fields

Some technologies have already used hybrid electronics, many other can be expected to benefit from it in the future. Amongst these technologies are smart packaging and displays, for instance. Smart packaging is a way for brand owners and consumers to interact and communicate, whether through product information, coupons or other programs. Roy Bjorlin from Sun Chemical explains that

“smart packaging can change the way retailers, brand owners and consumers interact with products by communicating, engaging customers, managing inventory systems and much more”.

Boeing Research & Technology is focusing on the use of flexible sensors for factory operations, add-on sensors for enhanced data collection services and advanced health monitoring for products. As Dr. Robert Smith, Technical Fellow at Boeing, explains, collecting data is generally constrained by the distributed nature of gathering sensor data, which requires access at physical locations and wiring for data, power and control. However, Dr. Smith is certain that

“with the emergence of flexible hybrid electronics, the possibility of integrating power, communication, processing and sensor capability onto a single flexible, conformal device becomes realisable.”

Inexpensive Mass Production as Future Goal

In the field of displays, inkjet printing of quantum dot displays is coming closer to reality. Furthermore, OLED is an area that has long been seen as an opportunity for mass production. Universal Display is investing $15 million to double the commercial production of its UniversalPHOLED phosphorescent emitter products. A product which has already been introduced in 2017 is Bosch’s EcoSilence Drive Washing Machine, whose OLED touch screen allows users to preset the time a wash cycle begins.

Malcolm Thompson from NextFlex states that sensors

“must be inexpensive so they can be produced in large numbers, and they’re designed to be consumable – they essentially biodegrade, and then you start again”.

He is convinced that the potential applications are practically limitless. This underlines that it is almost certain that flexible and printed electronics will gain in importance in the next years. The progress of the industry and the emergence of innovations will therefore be exciting and fun to observe.

What do you think about hybrid electronics and sensors in particular? Have you ever used such a device? Leave us a comment in the section below!