One of the more intriguing developments involving industrial inkjet printheads is to team them with a thin-film substrate as a memory based image carrier. The project is taking shape following a technology partnership between Xaar plc, the Cambridge based manufacturer of inkjet printheads and Thin Film Electronics (TFE), a Swedish provider of non-volatile polymer memory technologies. A previous collaboration led to a demonstration, at Ipex 2006 in the UK, of the world’s first printed ferro-electric memory array. This current partnership represents another facet of the new industry of printed electronics. (The subject was described in some depth in the March 2007 issue of L&NW.)
Although at an embryonic stage, it is not hard to see the potential of printed electronics for industrial and commercial applications. One attraction is the low cost of materials compared with silicon chips and other types of semi-conductive materials, allowing the possibility of high volume applications. These could center around a high resolution printing process like inkjet, but flexo or screen could also be used. It is already possible to link printed electronics with some form of smart labeling and/or RFID tags and labels.
Xaar and TFE have agreed to jointly develop inkjet methods and film based processes for producing printed memory applications efficiently and in high volumes suitable for commercial applications. The deal centers on TFE’s intellectual property for printable memory materials, and Xaar’s intellectual property, equipment and systems for printing functional materials.
Printed electronics is described as a rapidly emerging industry that takes advantage of high-speed and low-cost printing technologies to manufacture electronics in various forms, including the use of thin and flexible substrates. Numerous opportunities are said to exist for these memory based products, which when manufactured efficiently in high volumes can offer significant cost-based advantages over traditional silicon chip methods.