Heric says the printing of electronic circuitry should offer print businesses substantial new opportunities
Some of my more seasoned readers may remember my repeated interest and tenacious efforts to show the print community that printing other than ink-on-paper is an important consideration for a future-minded printshop. Increasingly, that is becoming the case in reality. Particularly with the increasing cost of energy, a great deal of government research granting and funding is available to industries whom might develop what I have long touted as a missed opportunity for the print industry.
This following link discusses one of the easiest potential opportunities for a print professional to look at when you think about what this might actually entail: http://on.msnbc.com/lWQ1e1.
It is not a new theme to my contributions to implore printed electronics and ink-jet circuitry. In my half dozen or so articles on this topic I discuss a lot of technology that might apply to a printing company in a mindset of transitioning an expanding their market into electronics rather than publications.
I discuss printed electronic displays, batteries, RFID, solar cells and other basic circuits that would have been made traditionally with boards, silicon and solder. Increasingly however as further incentives for fuel savings and energy costs bring into light the need for some of the simplest of circuits - solar cells and batteries.
Is it sexy to print something so mundane (large patches of photovoltaic ink or electrolyte and conductors) as to require little regard for pagination, shingling, stitching or lovely eye-popping colour? Likely not from the standpoint of a traditional print professional, but it is when looked at through the eyes of a young venture-capitalist with a mindset to start a new business printing money, it is low hanging fruit. When finishing becomes a verb for sealing and electronic testing rather than binding and trimming technology, we may forget that both products are methods of printing. While it may have been premature to think about when I first brought some of this up six or seven years ago, this is real-world technology now, and once again, I implore the forward thinking printshops in our community to look into this potentially lucrative print product.
We are an industry that is also used to capital expenditure in hardware to meet the needs of a market. While non-trivial, we do routinely plan to amortise and purchase multiple-million dollar investments in hardware in order to obtain a profitable return on that investment. While not as speculative as a completely different method of manufacturing (as well as subsequent sales and marketing of said product), we do spend millions of dollars with the hope it will earn a profit. The emergent world of ink-jet manufacturing and electronics printing cost of entry is going to be far lower, including research and development. It is likely that a small-scale entry into this arena may only require a marginal investment in hardware and training to open doors to potentially much larger and more lucrative opportunities that remove a good deal of the speculative nature. Think about having to budget for a new platesetter, or proofer, and allocate a similar budget for ink-jet manufacturing. On a larger scale once you have a toehold in the market, perhaps the investment of an offset press.
This is not going to be an easy transition from a traditional print facility to printed electronics, but it is less painful than a lot of the transition we have endured over the past few decades, and it once again allows us to leverage our printing expertise. The companies that are currently either doing or planning to do this type of electronics printing have little or no traditional print expertise. If they are making it work for them without that expertise they have solved a number of the issues that we likely have solved many years ago. I feel that much like it was when our industry made the transition into digital prepress, it is easier to train a printer to print engineering materials, than it is to teach an engineer to print. I have encountered a great deal of really bad prepress from employees who had no traditional print experience and only computer expertise. ‘What do you mean it has no bleed? It looks great on my screen.’
Building a better mousetrap does not simply bring them to your door. Like all products and services we can offer, you have to have an updated sales and marketing team that understands the needs of the printed electronics industry, and who to go to in order to sell it. While some traditional print sales and marketing professionals may be able to make the transition, professional market research and awareness will insure that pragmatism follows purchase planning.
By bringing all of this together into a cohesive plan, it may appear that it is not that great a stretch to think this far outside the box. A little research and homework (just Google ink-jet printed solar cells, printed electronics, or ink-jet printed circuitry) plus perhaps also making a few inquiries from the vendors of such hardware could be rewarding. It might also surprise one to find how affordable and potentially large the market is in this emerging field. While I have written about this some years in the past, it was more speculative then than it is now with the current precedence of others taking that first leap in ‘can this be done?’
I want our industry to inherit this market. We have spent decades and centuries refining the craft that is print, and we are on the precipice of an interloper industry slipping in betwixt the cracks of our radar, and taking print from underneath us. All of this is taking place when print as a service industry is already under the pressure of electronic publishing services removing print volume from us. By becoming the experts that we have become with traditional print on electronics printing we can differentiate ourselves as professionals in print manufacturing. We need to re-think our services: forget ink, forget paper, we are in the business of professionally and consistently applying materials over substrates with high-degrees of precision. That is, after all, the basic premise of all future printed electronics applications. It is a critical flaw to not make note that we are the veterans in this.