How Printed Electronics Can Be Used to Produce Innovative and Sustainable PCBs
Printed and flexible electronics products are becoming increasingly commonplace in applications such as wearable electronics and flexible displays. Smart phone manufacturers such as Samsung have introduced a new dynamic to the world of consumer electronics over the past few years with their folding smartphones. Whilst the technology is still in its infancy, it is clear that it is here to stay.
The ability to produce electronics using additive printing technologies as opposed to the more typical industry standard subtractive copper etching processes is enabling new possibilities for electronic equipment.
The additive technology is already being widely used in all different kinds of applications, heavily driven by the introduction of 5G and radar systems used in the electric vehicles market. Printed electronics is enabling new possibilities for electronic equipment, driving innovation in the medicine and Internet of Things (IoT) industries as just a few examples.
The global market for printed and flexible electronics was valued at $31.7 billion in 2018, and is expected to grow to $77.3 billion in 2029 (Source: IDTechEx). A large contributor to this market consists of printed conductive inks, predominantly used in photovoltaic solar panels. Other market segments such as stretchable electronics and flexible batteries are also maintaining strong growth potential.
Printed electronics uses common printing equipment such as screen printing or inkjet printers to create electrical devices on various substrates. These processes deposit functional inks on to the substrate – functional inks are electrically active materials that have conductive properties. Printing processes are deal for prototyping. Whilst flexible substrates are more commonly used with printed electronics, the technology is also compatible with rigid PCB laminates – this includes Jiva’s Soluboard®.
With the support of one of our key UK-based partners, Printed Electronics Ltd (PEL), Jiva now has the ability to produce fully functioning Soluboard® prototype PCBs using printed electronics. One example of the prototypes that Jiva and PEL are able to produce is a single-sided variant of the open-source Arduino, a microcontroller commonly used throughout the maker community. PEL is a global expert in electronics design and manufacture, specialising in all areas of functional material printing process development.
The green credentials of printed electronics make the process a great fit for Soluboard® PCB fabrication. Additive printing methods are more environmentally friendly than copper etching processes as there is much less material waste. High percentages of copper are removed from PCBs in the etching process and the PCB fabricator typically pays for this etchant to be disposed of – only the quantities of ink that are necessary for the application are deposited with printing.
Low-temperature soldering and curing processes are also suitable for creating printed electronics. This offers a reduction in the energy involved in producing additive Soluboard® PCBs, further contributing to the reduced carbon footprint of the substrate compared to glass fibre and epoxy alternatives. Jiva’s Soluboard® is not just limited to flat PCB applications either. Its thermoplastic composition means it is mouldable, potentially providing the ability to produce printed electronics PCBs with non-standard topography.
Jiva is actively seeking to engage in projects with potential customers who believe that the less resource intensive printed electronics process applied to Soluboard® could improve their sustainability credentials.
PEL’s state-of-the-art open access Printed Electronics Development Facility in Staffordshire is supporting Jiva throughout the successful combination of printed electronics with more conventional processes. If you have a design that you would be interested in producing a prototype of, please do not hesitate to contact us at [email protected].