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 user 2009-10-30 at 12:27:24 pm Views: 60
  • #22636,2817,2354848,00.asp
    Xerox on Tuesday announced a new silver ink that it’s calling a breakthrough in printable electronics, a leading-edge concept that’s generated a lot of discussion but few actual products to date. Why? Precisely because of the issues that Xerox claims to have addressed.In concept, printable electronics is just what it sounds like: using a printer, basically an inkjet, to print electronic circuits. If one can do that reliably, electronic devices can be printed for far less than current methods cost. One can also print the devices on a variety of new materials.

    The possibilities range from printing on flexible plastic (opening the door to displays you can roll up and put your briefcase), to paper and cardboard (for packaging that can give audio and video instructions for assembling a product, provide active reminders to take medicine or confirm whether you already took it), to fabric (which could allow wearable electronics – a T-shirt with a display, say, replacing a printed slogan for marketing or for showing support for a political candidate.)”We will be able to print circuits in almost any size from smaller custom-sized circuits to larger formats such as wider rolls of plastic sheets – unheard of in today’s silicon-wafer industry,” said Hadi Mahabadi, vice president and center manager of Xerox Research Centre Canada, in a statement. “We are taking this technology to product developers to enable them to design tomorrow’s uses for printable electronics.”

    Until now, the concept of printable electronics has been more promise than reality. One of the few actual applications has been printing antennas for RFID tags (the technology EZ-Pass or FastPass uses to charge passing cars tolls without forcing them to stop). Some have predicted that the ability to print the entire RFID tag, instead of just the antenna (and print it cheaply enough), is the point where printable electronics will begin to take off. Xerox says it could bring the cost of RFID tags down from the current dollar or so each to roughly a penny each, which could be that point.

    The big hurdle for printable electronics has been finding a practical (as well as economical) way to implement it. Given the goal of being able to print on everything from paper, to cardboard, to plastic, one of the big problems has been that the temperature needed to melt silver ink for printing – the conductor needed for electronics – tends to be too high for the materials you want to print on. Plastic, for example, tends to melt, when the hot ink is applied.

    According to Xerox, one of the key benefits of its technology is that it can print with silver ink at a much lower temperature than competing technologies, which makes it much easier for the materials it’s printing on to survive. The ink has also been reformulated so that the molecules precisely align themselves in the best configuration to conduct electricity.

    Likewise, circuits can also be printed in non-clean room environments, Xerox claims. According to Xerox, printing with competing technologies in open-air environments results in circuits that don’t last long or aren’t consistently reliable. However, Xerox says that its technology doesn’t need a clean room any more than a standard printer needs one for putting ink or toner on paper.

    Finally, Xerox says that they’ll make the technology available to others. Assuming it does what Xerox is claiming, and assuming other companies agree it does what they need, this new technology may be just the breakthrough the industry needs to jump-start printable electronics as a major new approach to building electronic devices.