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Printed Electronics and the Internet of Things

Posted August 22, 2014 12:00 AM by Engineering360 eNewsletter

Until recently, conventional wisdom saw printed electronics primarily as a way of producing high-volume, low-cost, low-performance electronics, such as flexible displays or active clothing. As the Internet of Things (IoT) takes shape, however, the very characteristics that limited use of printed electronics become assets. Cost restraints limit the scalability of conventional, silicon-based electronics, but the low-cost and high-volume process that produces printed electronics allows the technology to scale to the extent and at the cost required by the IoT. Automation World explains how the technology is evolving and offers insight into how printed electronics will impact manufacturing.


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Guru

Join Date: Dec 2010
Location: North West England
Posts: 1170
Good Answers: 152
#1

Re: Printed Electronics and the Internet of Things

08/23/2014 4:34 AM

I recently read an article on this topic that suggested this technology could be used for the printing of sensors (strain, temperature, etc.) into domestic and industrial equipment to alert abnormal conditions before serious damage can develop. The article stressed that it not only makes possible the printing of sensors in previously impossible situations, importantly it is cheap.

For electronic printing to have any real impact and to take advantage of the low cost, all units (motors, refrigerators, air conditioners) that are manufactured would need the sensors printed during manufacture. Then the 1% (or less) of applications that would show cost effective returns from the technology could be connected on installation. So cheap in this instance means cheap per unit, not cheap overall. All the 99% (or more) of the units not using the sensors would still pay. Or should I say, we would pay, in higher prices for yet another feature that most of us will not use.

Printing cheap sensors is the tip of an iceberg. Connecting those sensors, providing the instrumentation to collate and interpret the data produced, to display or act on the information, is not addressed by this technology. Conventional sensors are typically the cheapest part of a feedback system. Reducing the costs of the cheapest bit will not impact on the overall costs.

Printing of electronics came out of a pure research university project. Most universities now have departments to commercialise their research. They have tried flexible displays and active clothing only to find that the manufacturers are is not responding because their customers are not convinced of the benefits. Now they are pushing printing sensors of use with the "internet of things", which is itself still a concept rather than an application.

My conclusion, a solution in search of a problem and until it finds the right problem to solve there will be no impact. This is not the right problem.

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