Finnish research result: Future electronics will give more space for design
In the future, the rigid electronic boards will not place restrictions in the design of new products, as the manufacturing technology is being developed towards more flexible, design-friendly and inexpensive form of electronics. New manufacturing methods will change the production processes and will enable the manufacturing of entirely new kinds of products. VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland sees a bright future in printable and plastic-based electronics and is investing in the research in this area.
Major progress is being made in the fields of printed electronics and material
research, which will allow the introduction of new electronics manufacturing
methods and products. Electronic products that will differ substantially from
the present in terms of their features will be launched to the markets within
a few years. Future applications employing plastic-based electronics could
include mobile phones and electronic appliances for home and for the
automotive industry, in particular. By using integrated sensors, light sources
and lightguides it is also possible to make new types of products for e.g.
lighting and decoration. Electronics may also be introduced into products
where they have not been used before. An example of such an application could
be a spoon that automatically measures the weight and temperature of it’s
The simplest applications can already be manufactured today but it will take
five to ten years before more complex devices can be introduced to markets. In
the future, electronic products will be designed more freely as the
electronics circuits are printed on flexible foils instead of conventional
rigid circuit boards. The final product will be partly or entirely flexible,
streamlined and it will address the user’s requirements better. By printing
electronics circuits on a plastic film, it is possible to cut down
manufacturing costs and use more environmentally friendly manufacturing
methods than what is seen currently in the production of standard circuit
VTT is developing a plastic-based electronics manufacturing technology that
will combine research activities in optics, mechanics and printed electronics.
Electronic circuits and components are integrated into plastic mouldings in
order to reduce the total number of components in devices, lower assembly
costs and improve product durability. This integration will also reduce the
size of appliances by removing the empty space within them. The two combined
manufacturing technologies, printed electronics and injection moulding, are
particularly suitable for applications where the manufacturing volumes are
The European electronics industry must specialise in order to survive the increasingly hard global competition, as electronics manufacturing is being moved to countries with smaller labour costs. The plastic-based electronics technology can be developed into a next-generation manufacturing paradigm that simultaneously makes use of established expertise and machines as well as the opportunities offered by new technology. Methods that combine injection moulding and printing are very cost-effective but call for broad technical planning and expertise, which makes the copying of products difficult. In fact, the European electronics industry could fight the China phenomenon by developing electronics manufacturing clusters that gather state-of-the-art expertise and specialise in a limited field of applications.
The combination of injection moulding technologies with printed electronics is being investigated in VTT’s self-funded SIPS project, which is part of a Complex Systems Design theme.
VTT's Plastic elecronics concept, which combines printed electronics and film over molding
3D RF Module - Fictional electronics module on 3D surface
Add-on proto with phone - a cell phone camera converted into microscope
Molded macrolens - a lens molded on a circuit board. Used in microscope add-on cell phone proto.
Signboard - a Plastic electronics product concept
Pulse counter - a Plastic electronics product concept
Smart Spoon - VTT's product concept, which combines printed electronics and film over mold. Smart Spoon measures weight and temperature. Plastic handle has sensors and integrated screen. Device has a photocell as power source.