Printable flexible timer set to enrich packaging
In a demonstration project with several key partners, market research firm IDTechEx bared the ongoing project to produce and distribute a flexible multi-functional timer, which it claims to be the world's first. This development comes prior to the Printed Electronics Europe event that IDTechEx is organising in Berlin, slated on April 1 and 2.
The device consists of an electronic logic circuit implemented with thin film metal oxide transistors, powered by a printed battery, and integrated onto a paper substrate. It has four timing sequences, activated by bending or "dog-earing" one of the corners of the paper substrate to make the connection between metallised pads.
Depending on what's printed on the paper background, the same demonstrator can be used across four different applications: a workout timer, a cooking timer, a meeting timer and a children activity timer. The actual timing shows up as different LEDs light up on a scale.
The transistors making the timing circuit are printed on a 25µm polyester substrate (the orange sheet seen on the picture), using standard production modules from PragmatIC.
"Future versions will use PragmatIC's 7400 series of flexible ICs, or ultimately a full custom design which would allow the 200 transistors or so, to be easily integrated into a footprint of just a few square millimetres," Scott White, PragmatIC CEO, told us in an email exchange.
"Because it is a demonstrator product at this stage, the form factor was not as much optimised as a product going to volume production, and the components have been intentionally left exposed to allow the 'inner workings' to be visible," added White. The overall thickness, including batteries and discrete LEDs, is less than 1mm.
With appropriate optimisation of the design, the entire timer device could be produced for a few 10s of cents, estimated White.
Partners involved in this low volume, application demonstrator included consumer goods company Procter & Gamble, printed logic company PragmatIC, printed battery supplier Blue Spark Technologies, conductive ink and photonic curing equipment supplier NovaCentrix and Cal Poly, who designed and printed on the paper substrate.
In the future, such a timer could be combined with a printed display or with printable LEDs. Procter & Gamble being on the end-user side, the company could certainly push creative use-cases for packaging applications, adding games or timing the consumption of healthcare products.
Market research firm Freedonia Group forecasts intelligent packaging to expand at double-digit rates annually in the United States, to reach $1.3billion in 2017 with the pharmaceutical market leading that growth.