The Palo Alto Research Center (PARC), a division of Xerox, has made some significant strides in the field of printable electronics, with the help of private companies. Imagine product labels and packages that can issue alerts when food has gone bad, or wearable health-tracking devices.
Now that Corning (the makers of Gorilla Glass) makes flexible, strong glass, will it finally be possible to own an entirely flexible smartphone in the next few years? With the help of 3D printing, perhaps future smartphones will be printed at home, with only the design requiring payment for download. Perhaps the electronics of the future will no longer require FedEx, UPS or USPS at all.
* Printable electronics designed by PARC include transistors, sensors, flexible batteries, TFT arrays, memory, smart labels, smart tags, and more. PARC continues to add items to the list as private companies come up with new needs and desires.
* Some of the printed electronics can be combined with PARC’s brand of flexible electronics, which have the added advantages of being rugged and lightweight. They are even potentially foldable in some cases. Flexible electronics is a field which PARC has been researching since the 1970s.
* As with 3D printing, CNet found that PARC’s printed electronics add special inks to a surface rather than etch them. The technology is therefore additive rather than subtractive, making it cheaper and easier to create the finished component from scratch than if it had to be etched out of other special materials.
* According to CNet, the new printed electronics technology has not been created for use by Xerox, specifically. Rather, PARC works with private companies and academic institutions in order to come up with truly creative ideas and prototypes that can be pushed to market more quickly. Some of the best inventions come from a strong need for a new technology, so working with companies that need a variety of new devices in a multitude of different fields pushes the technology beyond anything PARC could have come up with on its own.
* PARC is a research institution at its root. It was the creator of the first laser printer, and even the first graphical user interface, among other inventions. Its long history of innovation puts it ahead of the curve on the ability to rapidly push forth new technology such as printed electronics. In other words, they are experts at innovation.
* For some printed electronics, PARC uses a special printer with multiple print heads that contain different inks needed for different components, according to CNet. The goal is to print an entire electronics assembly at once, with all its various components being printed at the same time from different print heads.
* An important advantage of the PARC printable electronics is that they can be printed on traditional roll-to-roll printers , typically used for printing newspapers. As newspapers slowly go the way of the dinosaur, they could be replaced on the printing presses by their successor, the computer components to which the masses have been slowly transitioning their reading material.
* Although PARC has made great strides, printable electronics is still in its infancy. True innovation in the field may be years away. Amazing prototypes are already being made, however, so some of the technology is already created and just needs to be tested and improved. Even NASA is working with PARC to create the next generation of spacecraft: one that is printed out on a printer, and entirely flexible.