So far, developments in the field of printed electronics have focused merely on expensive high-end gadgets like phones, cameras and wearable devices. But this technique can also be used to make packaging more exciting and functional. What makes a product stick out more than flashing LEDs and displays with additional information? A university project has now found a way to make this more affordable for the broad market.

In order to bring electronics on packaging, they must be produced the way color inks are applied on a package with high printing speed and in ambient conditions. However currently, printed electronics based products are far too expensive for its wide spread application in packaging. The reason behind this is that the integrated production is missing.

At the moment, robotic assembly of different electronic components such as battery, display and circuits are done on one substrate which is manufactured by different producers. Therefore establishment of a new automatic assembly line requires huge initial investment. Few manufacturers are willing to take this since it presents such a new and experimental technology.

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The institute of Print and Media technology of the Technical University of Chemnitz (pmTUC) tried to solve this problem and took an initiative to develop cost-effective electronics for smart packaging. Under the guidance of Prof. Arved Hübler, the institute had already produced various innovative products in the past. For example, they reported the first printed solar cell on paper substrate in 2011. In the same year the institute printed loudspeaker on paper.

Now a new project at pmTUC funded by EXIST, a support program of the Federal Ministry of Economics and Energy, has started. This initiative aims to commercialize printed electronics for smart packaging application. To do so, the scientists prints different components directly on one substrate by using only standard printing machines.

So far, the project has brought a spin-off named Saralon. The word itself is a combination of the old language Sanskrit and means “simple” while the phrase “on” comes from electronic combining the approach and the intercultural structure of the project.

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The team has already developed different ideas for actual application. These products are currently being presented to companies and are expected to be launched soon. One of them for example includes a printed battery, printed finger touch sensor and a printed display on a package. Whenever an end user touches it, a display will be activated. This can show a text message, a picture or corporate logo.

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The electronics can easily be incorporated to any existing package, with an already existing production technique. As the complete compounds are made from environment friendly materials, the disposal of the package is not a big issue. As an additional feature, the special packaging can be used as an anti-counterfeiting device, which is impossible to copy. According to Saralon, the price of the product will be little higher than holograms. The battery is supposed to last for six months.

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Another product sample is a bottle label with integrated battery, circuit, LED and a humidity sensor. Once touched lightly with a finger, the sweat activates the sensor, which then sends an electrical signal through the printed circuit to the LED.

A third one works the same way. Only this time, LEDs on the outside and inside are activated and supported by a reflecting foil on the inside. That way the glass packaging on the inside appears to be glowing. All components apart form the LED are very flexible and thin and can therefore be printed on any surfaces.