The future of plastic electronics
23.12.2008; Minister for Finance and Public Service, Andrew Davies, made a return visit to Swansea University’s Welsh Centre for Printing and Coating recently to learn about cutting-edge developments in plastic electronics which includes helping people remember to take their pills.
Mr Davies, who officially opened the Centre’s new £1.8 million laboratories in October 2006, came to view new equipment and some of the enabling technologies following a KEF capital investment grant of £164,000 for the facility’s new Technology Transfer Centre – Printed Plastic Electronics Manufacturing Facility. And staff at the Centre, which is integrated into the Multi-Disciplinary Nanotechnology Centre within the School of Engineering, updated Mr Davies on the latest technological developments, including work being carried out to develop printed electronic displays.
Commenting on the visit Dr. Tim Claypole, founder and director of the Welsh Centre for Printing and Coating said, “Over the years we have been able to expand our printing, ink-making and analytical laboratories, thereby making our facilities completely unique within Europe. We are already attracting companies from all over the Continent and North America looking for research and development opportunities and we expect this to grow as more firms start exploring the potential of plastic or polymer electronics.”
Mr Davies also had the opportunity to discuss the development of printing applications within areas such as nanohealth. This includes a £1.6M project funded by Technology Strategy Board to improve the flexographic printing process to help people ‘remember’ if they’ve taken their pills.
Dr Claypole explained: “A major problem for doctors is knowing if and when a patient has taken their medicine. Part of the answer to this could lie in smart packaging where the package detects when the pill was taken out. To achieve this you need to print intelligent tracks and materials.”
The project which is being led by Timson, the UK’s leading manufacturer of bespoke packaging presses (and book presses used in the latest Harry Potter derived book), is built on the unique reel-to-reel press within Swansea University’s School of Engineering.
Other companies involved in the collaborative project include GEM from Pontypool which makes conductive inks, Tectonic which produces web inspection systems and Millennium Laser which carries out the laser trimming.
The Centre is unique to Wales and the rest of the UK for its research into printed nanohealth products and is now also looking into biodegradable/ compostable options for future applications.
This involves working with Innovia, which supplied a compostable film based on cellophane which prints effectively with the carbon conducting ink developed by GEM.
Andrew Davies said: “This visit was very much a taste of what is to come. “As well as monitoring ‘pill popping’, printing of functional materials on smart packaging could lead to detecting deterioration of food and monitoring of storage conditions. “This would reduce the amount of food we have to throw away as it reaches its sell by date, because we do not know if it is still safe to eat.
“Aside from being completely fascinating, this technology is being developed in Wales for global innovation and is testimony to the role that technology businesses will continue to play on the world stage.
“At this time of global economic crisis, it is important that Wales can punch above its weight by being at the cutting edge of new technology. Exciting new developments like this demonstrate our success as a small clever country.”
Other technologies discussed during the visit include the development of materials that will become the transparent conductor on the front of displays, such as electronic paper and e-book readers under development with Solflex.
Dr Claypole added: “If one could print the transparent conductor, then this would enable the display to be built on opaque material like paper and steel, rather than be reliant on transparent materials that have been spluttered coated in a thin layer of metals. This project is calling on our expertise in printing to evaluate the performance material produced by TWI and turned into an ink by GEM.”
The next year will also see moves by countries such Australia to phase out filament light bulbs and fluorescent tubes in favour of energy efficient printed lamps, thereby creating improved ambient lighting conditions for the home and work.
The Wales Centre for Printing and Coating is already working with Fast2light, a 10Million Euro European Union funded FP7 project led by Holst Centre (part of Phillips) in Eindhoven, for the development of large area lighting.
Dr Claypole said: “We were invited to join the project because of our fundamental research in printing as a manufacturing process coupled with our reel-to-reel printing capability that we have installed with funding from the Welsh Assembly Government. We are also able to replicate the production environment in our laboratories at Swansea University.”
For more information about the Welsh Centre for Printing and Coating, visit http://www.swansea.ac.uk/printing/.