LOPEC 2022: Printed electronics for all industries

LOPEC, the international exhibition and conference for flexible, organic and printed electronics, will soon open its doors in the ICM — Internationales Congress Center München. From March 22 to 24, exhibitors from Germany and abroad will present their innovations along the entire value chain—from conductive nano-inks to paper batteries and other pioneering applications.

Light, thin, flexible and sustainable, as well as cost-efficient to manufacture and robust in use: Thanks to these qualities, organic and printed electronics are conquering the electronics market. “LOPEC reflects this broad spectrum,” says Armin Wittmann, Exhibition Director of LOPEC at Messe München. “Organic and printed electronics are establishing themselves as key, cross-sectional technologies in more and more industries.” With more than 150 exhibitors from 23 countries registered so far, this year’s trade fair will reach the level of LOPEC 2019, the last time the industry came together live in Munich. The exhibition space has been expanded to more than 1,500 square meters.

“Printed electronics are much more than an alternative to conventional electronics,” says Klaus Hecker, the Managing Director of the industry association and LOPEC co-host OE-A (Organic and Printed Electronics Association), an international working group within VDMA: “They enable entirely new applications that can’t be implemented with traditional components.” The LOPEC Innovation Showcase brings together some particularly impressive examples. One application sure to turn heads here is the BMW iX Flow concept car, whose body changes color at the push of a button—thanks to technology that will be familiar to e-book readers.

Medical technology is likewise turning to printed electronics, as demonstrated in the LOPEC Innovation Showcase by the US company InkSpace Imaging with their innovation for magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Until now, investigatory imaging processes, for which patients were placed inside a tube, were based on a one size fits all principle. However, this approach isn’t suitable for the anatomy of every patient. For that reason, InkSpace Imaging has developed a kind of blanket with printed MRI coils that fits to the shape of the patient’s body. In December, the company received FDA approval for its “Pediatric Body Array,” which revolutionizes MRI scanning for infants and babies. Because the flexible MRI coils are located close to the body, it produces qualitatively better images while taking less time. This significantly reduces both stress for little patients and the use of anesthetics.

In addition to other exhibitors from the automotive and medical technology sectors, the Innovation Showcase also features innovations from the sports and leisure sector. One such example is skis with integrated sensors from Austrian company Atomic.

© Silver Nanowire

Innovative inks for rear windows, flexible batteries and more

“These groundbreaking applications are preceded by many years of research and development work,” says Klaus Hecker. “Innovative printing materials in particular, but also new systems and processes are essential for the market success of printed electronics.” Above all, material sciences and nano-technologies are enablers to this success. Industry giants like NovaCentrix and Henkel, as well as many small and medium-sized companies will be presenting innovative printing materials at LOPEC.

LOPEC exhibitor HeiQ RAS uses conductive inks with silver nanowires. Due to their nano structure, these wires are not only invisible, they are also so mechanically flexible that they can nestle into conventionally formed surfaces. The nanowires are applied to foils, glass, textiles and other substrates from an aqueous solution in a roll-to-roll process, using spray techniques or other common coating methods. This makes it possible to manufacture transparent heating systems and other conductive coatings. At LOPEC, HeiQ RAS will be showing, among other things, a rear window coated with this technology. It is impressively resource efficient: Ten grams of silver nanowire is enough to functionalize 200 square meters of substrate material.

Organic printing materials also offer decisive advantages. Swedish start-up n-Ink, for example, will be presenting highly conductive,“n-type” organic nano-inks at LOPEC. These make it possible to make use of the full potential of printed organic electronics, as until now only p-type organic inks were commercially available. The electronics sector requires both p-type and n-type semiconductors.

LOPEC exhibitor Saralon will present a wide range of materials for printed electronics in Munich, including a set of seven different inks for manufacturing batteries on paper or plastic. Saralon will also be celebrating the premiere of its copper ink at LOPEC. This is significantly more cost-effective than a silver ink, but provides the same performance and is just as easy to process. The German company also offers process know-how to make it easier for traditional printers to get started with the new technology.

Proven stability and reliability

One essential factor for the market success of printed electronics is their reliability and stability. With appropriate protective layers and encapsulations, organic solar cells, printed sensors and the like are transformed into robust components that can withstand heat, cold and moisture, mechanical and other stresses without damage. “At LOPEC you can see washable sensor shirts, foldable smartphones and many other applications,” says Klaus Hecker. “But LOPEC doesn’t just showcase pioneering printed electronics end products, it also provides comprehensive information on all the instruments and processes along the entire value chain.”

Optitune from Finland, for example, will present a transparent, scratch-resistant coating for foldable displays, sensors in the automotive sector and many other applications in Munich. LOPEC exhibitor Bayflex Solutions, meanwhile, specializes in systems for testing the stability of products such as e-textiles and flexible OLEDs. The U.S. company is looking forward to its first trade fair appearance in Europe, where it will present its devices that make it possible to simulate permanent loads and identify the risk of cracks, delaminations and other damage. Bayflex Solutions optimizes stress tests using artificial intelligence, electronic data and image recording and cloud services for remote monitoring.

Inspiring start-ups: Biotechnology meets electronics

“Young industries such as printed and organic electronics depend on the innovative spirit of the start-up scene,” says Armin Wittmann. “We are therefore particularly looking forward to the great interest in the LOPEC Start-up Forum.” On March 23, entrepreneurs from Denmark, Germany, Finland, France, Israel, Italy, the Netherlands and Sweden will present their business ideas in ten-minute pitches.

For the first time, there will be two companies present that span from biotechnology to the electronics sector. On the search for new materials for organic light-emitting diode (OLEDs), German start-up Mimotype is focusing on small, blue luminescent crabs that live off the Japanese coast. Mimotype wants to use genetic engineering methods to identify the light molecules of these “fireflies of the sea” and biotechnologically manufacture them. BeFC from France, meanwhile, is a pioneer on the area of enzyme-based fuel cells. The French start-up’s metal- and plastic-free paper fuel cells are a recycling-friendly alternative to previous batteries.

Attractive supporting program

The best presentations from the Start-up Forum will be rewarded with the LOPEC Award at the LOPEC Get-Together on the evening of March 23. The OE-A Competition will also be held during this event, with 23 international companies and research institutes taking part this year. IEE from Luxembourg, for example, has submitted a leg prosthesis with touch sensors that supports a safe stride and minimizes phantom pains. The Dutch Holst Centre is competing with a monitoring mat that keeps an eye on babies’ body position, breathing and heart rate, but is also suitable for many other purposes. All the entries can be seen at the OE-A booth, where LOPEC visitors can also give their say on the Public Choice Award.

“With the get-together and other offerings in our attractive supporting program, we invite all the visitors, exhibitors, participants and speakers at the LOPEC conference to take part in networking,” says Armin Wittmann. “We sense just how much the industry wants to exchange in person after the dry spell caused by the pandemic.” LOPEC offers the ideal opportunity to do so.