Flexibility is a very individualized trait. Some people can easily touch their toes, while others strain to reach down and tie their shoes.
But when it comes to creating thinner, lighter, and more connected products, flexibility is a critical attribute. Thankfully, advancements in printed electronics have opened the doors to new form factors and design opportunities.
What are flexible printed electronics, and how are they made?
Flexible printed electronics can often replace rigid integrated circuits in low-powered electronic devices. This innovative approach creates circuitry by printing conductive inks on a flexible substrate. While the most common substrates are plastic films – such as polyester or urethane – flexible printed electronics can be made with metal foil, paper, textile, elastic, or flexible glass. Depending on the application, there’s also a variety of conductive inks for printed electronics, including silver, copper, zinc, nickel, and more.
Application and advantages of printed electronics
Compared to rigid circuit boards, flexible printed electronics offer a host of unique benefits:
- New shapes and sizes – Printed electronics are highly conformable, allowing products to bend, twist, and stretch.
- Electronics in new places – The thin, flexible nature of printed electronics enable designers to add circuity to more products.
- Additive process – The additive process makes printed electronics cost-efficient to manufacture and results in less wasted material.
- Enhanced connectivity and data – More products can connect to the internet and harness the power of analytics and AI.
- Spurring innovation – The most exciting part of printed electronics is that we’re just scratching the surface of what’s possible with this technology.
These advantages make flexible printed electronics ideal for several industries, including medical devices, consumer electronics, and industrial equipment. In fact, printed electronics are shaping the future through a wide range of high-tech applications. Here is just a handful of examples:
- Flexible displays
- RFID tags
- Smart textiles
- In-mold electronics
- Stretchable electronics
- IoT devices
- Soft robotics
- Biosensors and electronics skin patches
- Light sensors
- Temperature sensors
- Pressure sensors
Flexible versus hybrid electronics
At Tapecon, customers often ask about the difference between flexible printed electronics and flexible hybrid electronics. The choice generally comes down to your end product and functionality requirements.
Flexible hybrid electronics feature a mix of printed circuitry (using the conductive inks and flexible substrates mentioned earlier) with non-printed components such as batteries, processors, or memory chips. In short, hybrid electronics allow your design to be thinner and flexible while adding more power or transmission capacity than with fully printed components. Learn more about how flexible hybrid electronics offer the best of both worlds.
Manufacturing partner for flexible electronics
Tapecon provides a multi-prong approach to manufacturing flexible printed electronics. First, we can help optimize your design with our in-house engineering team and materials expertise. From there, we have advanced printing capacities and extensive experience applying conductive ink to flexible substrates. Last but not least, we have various custom converting processes to produce the component to your exact specifications.
For a deeper dive into flexible printed electronics, watch or listen to our podcast with Len Allison from Engineered Material Systems.
Let’s make something great
With over 100 years of manufacturing experience, Tapecon works with product teams to solve challenges, create products, and enhance lives. Learn more about our flexible printed electronics applications.