Heidelberg has set up a dedicated business unit for the industrial development, manufacture and sale of printed and organic electronics at its Wiesloch-Walldorf production site in Germany. In fact, the OEM has already begun production at this site, investing some five million euros in a complete production line for printed sensors. Sensors developed at InnovationLab (iL) in Heidelberg for use in dental technology will be printed first. These innovative printed sensors make it possible, for the first time, to digitally record the distribution of masticatory pressure during occlusion – that is to say, when the upper and lower jaws come together. 3D visualization on a tablet and data archiving enable malocclusions to be identified and subsequently corrected. Looking further ahead, Heidelberg will also use state-of-the-art printing technology to produce sensors for other digital applications – in particular in the healthcare and logistics, retail and automotive sectors.
“Embarking on the development and industrial production of printed and organic electronics represents a milestone for Heidelberg and for Germany as an industrial player,” said Heidelberg CEO Rainer Hundsdörfer. “As we see it, our involvement in this production of high-tech sensors opens up the potential for growth in the two-digit to three-digit million euro range.”
The future industrial printing of organic electronics and the associated software/hardware development represent a first for the German mechanical engineering and press manufacturing company, and “will take digitization forward by leaps and bounds.” The new sensor printing technology will likely make Germany’s high-tech industry a world leader in this area of development. In operational terms, its introduction offers Heidelberg a huge array of development opportunities, printing sensors mile after mile on an industrial scale in a ‘cleanroom’ environment. The technology and the sheer scale of output in this form are currently unrivaled anywhere in the world, said Heidelberg.
Opportunities for a variety of new Industry 4.0 digital business models
Innovative printed and organic electronics technology produces sensors based on conductive inks and functional materials. Integrated into wireless sensor nodes (sensors and their communication nodes), they’re a cornerstone of applications in the areas of Industry 4.0 and the Internet of Things. The new printing technology will ultimately expand existing digital business models, and above all trigger the development of new, smart products. A high level of demand already exists – specifically in healthcare and logistics, and also in the retail, automotive and consumer electronics sectors, portable technologies and building automation.
Consumers will benefit from new, cost-effective technology
Printed and organic electronics (also often referred to as green electronics) offers numerous benefits for consumers. The energy-efficient production process, resource-conserving use of materials, and industrial series production also ensure consistent quality in large volumes at relatively low costs. These are key prerequisites for international competitiveness. Looking to secure a leading position in the digital future, Heidelberg, the current world market leader in the construction of printing presses, is “throwing open the door into the new world of digital technology and moving into completely new areas of business.”
German government’s timely funding paves the way for success
The current success is the result of years of fundamental research by scientists from Germany and other countries at InnovationLab GmbH in Heidelberg, Germany. iL’s shareholders are the DAX-listed companies BASF and SAP, Heidelberg University, the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, and Heidelberg. It started out in 2008 following its successful participation in the German government’s Leading-Edge Cluster Competition. Industrial engineer Luat Nguyen is now in charge of this unique platform for knowledge transfer, research, and development in the field of printed and organic electronics. The focus is on co-operation agreements with start-ups and other companies from all over the world. InnovationLab scientists work with these businesses to develop new materials, processes and functional products that they subsequently get ready for industrial-scale production in partnership with Heidelberg.
High market potential
iL and Heidelberg have set an ambitious goal for their cooperation, said the two parties. Together, they’re looking to play a leading global role in printed electronics. Innovative products are providing both companies with new markets and opportunities for establishing partnerships in all kinds of diverse industries. Experts predict huge economic potential for printed sensors, forecasting sales of up to a billion euros over the next ten years.