Flexible Printed Devices Shapes the Future

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As had been shown in the past, the advances of human civilization had always been marked with inventions that pushed society forward. Today’s era, beginning just a few years back then,had seen digital technology evolving at an unprecedented speed before.   

The role of electronics in our daily lives and industries had become greater and greater. There had been a proliferation of light, miniaturized and portable devices.All of these technical innovations are using cutting-edge materials and manufacturing processes. 

The exciting part is that the applications thatthey brought in are slowly shaping the future. In fact, they are also used by the engineer-developers themselves in creating more amazing technological instruments and devices using new innovative techniques.

One of the biggest innovations of late is the development of flexible printed electronics.

Tipping point: flexible electronics

As a concept, printed flexible electronics aren’t a brand-new concept since they were in existence for some decades prior. However, there is now a significant performance gap with electronics and conventional, rigid electronics.

Today’s advancements in material science, printing technology and other additive manufacturing processes, things are leveraged on the many benefits of flexible electronics without sacrificing capabilities and functionality.

In addition, consumers can now get the best of both worlds with flexible hybrid electronics (FHE). This is a combination of flexible substrates and low-cost functional ink printing with other traditional components.  

In printed flexible electronics, the solutions are not simply an incremental improvement over traditional circuit boards and other components. 

Flexible electronics helped make an existing product smaller, lighter, and more pliable. It also opened the door to novel form factors and applications. Experts say we have only scratched the surface of the many possibilities coming from printed flexible electronics.

Macro trends

When it comes to sensors inside an electronics device, bigger is typically not better. Flexible electronics allow sensors to be more compact, accessible, and cost-effective to produce. There is now such a thing as the miniaturization of sensors.

The proliferation of sensors in new places – and the real-time data they capture – is being leveraged in several industries, including healthcare (biosensors), environmental (gas sensors), automotive (autonomous driving), consumer electronics (fingerprint sensors), and more.

New form factors and innovations

Minus the restrictions and limitations of traditional electronic components, the designers, engineers, and OEMs can push the envelope with products like never before. For one, printed flexible electronics provide the opportunity for innovative form factors and product differentiation. 

Aside from breaking the mold, flexible electronics offer a host of benefits, including smaller devices, improved comfort for users, and light-weighting, just to name a few.

Some of the examples of new form factors and innovations made possible by flexible electronics include E-textiles with flexible and stretchable sensors, flexible batteries and displays and 3D print of structural electronics.

Digital health

Flexible electronics have a major role in the technological shift within the healthcare field. Because the population is aging and there is increasing rates of chronic disease, the medical system needs a reliable, sustainable alternative to traditional hands-on patient monitoring and care. 

With the use of flexible electronics, the medical devices for remote patient monitoring is made more convenient and comfortable to wear. They are less invasive, and very portable.

These wearable or ultra-compact medical devices can be used for a wide variety of point-of-care applications. The biometric sensors can monitor and track heart rates, glucose levels, movement, weight, blood pressure, oxygen level, temperature, medication and much more.

New devices and current technology

This new devices using the current technology has the most significant benefit for remote patient monitoring. This is particularly important during high-risk cases like babies and pregnant mothers, the elderly and those with chronic diseases like diabetes and patients in pre-and post-surgery.

Through technological advancements, it is expected that the devices with flexible electronics will enhance other healthcare areas. These would include diagnostics, genetic tests, telemedicine, health analytics, lifestyle tracking, pharmaceutical research and general wellness.

Automotive industry

Today’s automotive industry is also in the thick of significant changes. With a combination of climate change concerns, governmental regulations, and consumer demands, the race is to produce effective and profitable electrical vehicles.

Some countries are now planning to phase out internal combustion engines over the next two years. Flexible electronics could become an untapped resource in the development of batteries for these electric-powered vehicles.

Automation and IoT connectivity

It seems like nearly every device is a “smart” device these days – and that’s a trend that’s not going away any time soon. Thanks to flexible electronics and printed sensors, more applications will become automated and connected to the Internet of Things (IoT). 

This technology promises to improve the safety, efficiency, and convenience of utilities and services.  Industries can implement RFID and other technologies for asset tracking, fraud protection, enhanced logistics and making data-informed decisions.

Printed electronics

With the advent of printed electronics, the possibilities seemed endless in the future, many of which we cannot even conceptualize now. At present, there are now some jaw-dropping renderings and prototypes of devices capitalizing on flexible electronics.

These days, there are already cutting-edge applications that are already in use today and many are in the horizon. Some of them are as follows:

Printed and flexible sensors

They give small devices the ability to sense everything from capacity touch to temperature to biometrics to environmental factors (gas, humidity, etc.)

Next-generation vehicles

Flexible electronics are crucial to the electrification of vehicles, especially regarding the battery conditioning monitoring. In addition, printed electronics can be used in advanced driver-assistance systems and create sleek, high-tech interior customer experiences.   

Wearables and skin patches

Newer devices will be small and flexible enough to stick on the patients’ skin. With it, the technology greatly improves the remote and continuous patient monitoring, medication adherence, and many more uses. 

Smart clothing

The addition of electronics to textiles will allow for discreet biometric monitoring. 

Electrochemical testing strips

The in-vitro diagnostics will become easier and more accessible for point-of-care use. People with diabetes will be comfortable and enjoy the less cumbersome and painful way to monitor glucose levels.

In-mold electronics

This is for use on compact, lightweight and durable devices as well as 3D electronics.

Smart packaging

Packaging will fully utilize the ease that RFID brings with wireless tags, illumination, chemical and temperature printed indicators, electronic articles surveillance (EAS) and more.

Some advantages

Being flexible, FPCs (flexible printed circuits) can be bent and flexed, allowing greater freedom in the design and operation of the application. These flexible circuits can also adapt to small or irregularly shaped spaces, a feature not supported by standard rigid circuits.

Another advantage of these electronic circuits is that they take up less space, and reduced weight on the application board. The optimal use of the available spaces allows for better thermal management.

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