Where Are the Opportunities?
Print buyers and brand managers are among the most creative people you will ever meet. They are constantly looking for ways to use new technologies in innovative ways to further their messages and stand apart from their competition.
Printed electronics, although still a relative newcomer to the world of graphic communications, is no different.
Creative people are already starting to look at the technology and are trying to think of ways to use it that no one else has tried yet. They are the driving force behind the pace of innovation, as they demand more functionality, for less money and with fewer steps in the production process. But there are some industries that are adopting this new technology faster than others.
1. Health & Fitness
The first, and one of the most interesting right now, isn’t in marketing at all, believe it or not. It’s in healthcare.
“Due to the aging U.S. population, one of the biggest and broadest market sectors that continues to grow printed electronics demand is that of the medical healthcare sector. This sector is driving multiple end users in the field of wearables, biosensors, etc.,” says Rebecca Fuhrman, Digital Market Development Manager, Tekra (Booth 2711)
Think about sensors you can print that can automatically measure blood pressure or heartbeat, for example. Instead of having to wire up patients to large and bulky machines, they could put a temporary patch on them that transmits the data back to a base station, allowing them more freedom of movement without sacrificing the ability to monitor their condition.
Or think about the wearables market, which is hot right now, with devices like Fitbits and Apple Watches — how many of you are wearing some kind of fitness tracker or smart watch right now? What if you could print that same technology into a colorful sticker you put on each day to match your mood? Or something discreet that no one else would have to know you are wearing?
When it comes to health and fitness, the possible innovations and strides forward we could make might sound like something out of a Star Trek film, but the reality is not quite as far away as you might think.
2. IME Technologies
“Looking out, In Mold Electronics (IME) is an emerging market demand that has and will continue to drive printed electronic growth across the automotive, appliance, medical and related industries,” notes Fuhrman. “Those companies that can offer a systems approach of film, adhesives, inks, etc. are best positioned for success.”
IME technology will more directly impact your largest customer base — marketers. It is a broad category that includes all kinds of flexible circuits that can be used in all kinds of applications. Think about magazine ads with headlights that light up on the page, or postcards that let you get more information without having to reach for a phone or computer.
But it goes beyond that. Think about appliances with printed interactive elements — not touch screens like we see today, but a printed sticker that can give detailed information and allow consumers to interact with the pieces. Automotive is another industry that is very interested in the process, looking for ways to improve their user interfaces and make the cars of the future even easier to use, while simultaneously giving them far more power and features.
We are at the cusp of a tipping point when it comes to printed electronics, when the technology will be good enough to start to allow for production runs of some of these applications, instead of just tech demos designed to showcase what could be. Start looking at your own client list with a critical eye and a creative mind — how could you use printed electronic components to improve the messaging your customers are producing? The shops who go in early to pitch the ideas and come up with creative solutions using this technology will be the ones who move from vendor to partner, and who find the most success as print, engineering, creativity and industrialization all continue to collide.