National Printable Electronics Centre exploits the opportunities of IoT

The Centre for Process Innovation (CPI), a UK innovation centre that enables the commercialisation of new processes and products, has successfully expanded the capabilities of its National Printable Electronics Centre to assist companies in exploiting the commercial opportunities offered by the Internet of Things (IoT). Expected to be worth £3.8 - £10.8 trillion per year by 2025*, the IoT’s ability to connect mainstream products via the cloud may be essential for electronics companies to develop new business models. CPI has new equipment and expertise that will enable companies to design, develop and demonstrate the manufacture of new concepts and participate in this high growth area.

Located in Newton Aycliffe, County Durham, the new facility is a world-class, open access centre for the commercialisation of innovative connected printed electronics. Utilising this facility expansion, product designers will be able to embed sensing and connectivity into their designs. This will enable the creation of products containing very thin electronics that will be wireless, smarter, interactive, conformable, thinner, lightweight, and, thanks to CPI’s new facilities, rapidly produced at high volumes and low cost. Specific applications could include packaging that can track and trace goods, monitor the condition of the contents, or interact with the consumer.  An example of where this is already being implemented is in the distribution of temperature sensitive medicines.

The new, cutting edge capabilities at the National Printable Electronics Centre include a roll-to-roll machine that integrates thin film and conventional electronics onto flexible films. This upgrade allows the creation of rolls of thin, flexible inlays containing multiple electronic components, expediting manufacturing. These flexible electronics can then be converted into labels, or embedded into smart products or wearables, for IoT applications. The electronics may include sensors, processing, transmission, communications technologies such as Near Field Communication (NFC) and Radio Frequency Identification Device (RFID), and energy sources and emerging electronics used for data collection.

This end-to-end production process positions CPI as a strategic partner to help companies on the journey from concept through design, development, and pilot scale production, and onto creating products at production volumes needed for market sample seeding. The low cost of these flexible, thin form electronics, and rapid rate of production using CPI’s bespoke equipment, provides a wide range of applications for the next generation of integrated, flexible components.

Thanks to these new resources, CPI is now uniquely placed to provide clients with thin, flexible electronics at an unparalleled scale on an open access basis,” says John Cocker, Director of Printable Electronics at CPI. “With the Internet of Things developing fast, CPI is now even better prepared with this investment in design and manufacturing capability to meet the market’s future technological needs.”

CPI recently officially opened the facility with tours for key stakeholders.  Josephine Charnley, co-founder of Quantum Technology Supersensors, which received support from CPI to launch a new sensor, said the help has been invaluable. She added: “Our ‘environmentally-friendly' printable inks, which can create smart pressure sensing surfaces and 3D Force Touch without costing the earth, have had an incredible launch with CPI’s assistance. Its first-class facilities have enabled us to develop our new products, which have just won two awards in Europe.”

CPI’s centre expansion was part-funded with £2.6m from the European Regional Development Fund. Further funding was also contributed by CPI via the Catapult programme and the SCOPE project: a collaborative project involving industry and co-funded by the Advanced Manufacturing Supply Chain Initiative (AMSCI).

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