Continental Pilot Plant for Printed Electronics Opens

Dr. Erhard Barho, Continental: »Produkt- und kundenorientiert Prozesse auf Basis der organischen und gedruckten Elektronik in die Fertigung zu bringen – das ist Aufgabe des Technikums in Freiburg. Wir machen fast alles tauglich für Industrie 4.0.«
Dr. Erhard Barho, Continental: "Bringing product- and customer-oriented processes based on organic and printed electronics into production - that is the task of the pilot plant in Freiburg. We make almost everything suitable for industry 4.0."

Continental wants to bring organic and printed electronics into series production in a new pilot plant ("Technikum") - not only for cars.

One of the goals is to be able to offer "hardware as a service", i.e. to develop new business models within the framework of Industry 4.0 and networking in general," explained Dr. Erhard Barho, Head of Functional Surface Solutions at Benecke-kaliko, a member of Continental, in an interview with Markt&Technik. "Many of our customers, and even more so end users, will hardly notice the printed electronics anymore, but in essence they are one of the main prerequisites. In short, we make almost everything suitable for industry 4.0."

Now printed electronics have reached a level of maturity that makes it necessary to optimize the entire process chain - for the respective areas of application, and of course also for automotive technology, but by far not only.

It is not a question of conducting research and development in a laboratory, but of making the processes of printed and organic electronics ready for the market - customer-oriented and product-oriented, that is new. "This enables us to lower prices in many areas, but often printed electronics are the first step towards manufacturing completely new systems and thus opening up new markets and new business models," says Barho. That's why Continental doesn't call the new facility in Freiburg "R&D center" or "laboratory," but "Technikum," which means real, economically viable industrial production. The engineers in the pilot plant are investigating how new materials can be combined with various processes to develop industrial production in large quantities for very different industries. There are now many different printing processes - sheet to sheet, roll to roll, additive processes and 3D printing - whose potential is to be explored and enhanced in the pilot plant.

The possibilities are manifold: functional surfaces can be realized just as easily as new types of sensors and actuators, which in turn can be combined with existing electronics and mechatronics to form hybrid systems. Not only are flexible, even stretchable systems tangible, they are no longer dreams of the future. All this will play a major role for Industry 4.0 in the future.

Sometimes even ICs can be integrated, but the essential components are the components of organic printed electronics. Often in combination with conventional connection and packaging technology, in so-called hybrid systems. Printing technology is usually the prerequisite for combining different, previously separate functions in a single package.

Above all, in order to conquer new markets and implement new business models, the pilot plant should offer an open environment. For example, hoses through which concrete is pumped on construction sites can be equipped with sensors and electronics. They provide status messages so that they can be exchanged in good time before they suddenly give up and this leads to long downtimes. This model can be applied to many other applications, such as wind turbine rotor blades, car and commercial vehicle tires, and conveyor belts in countless other wastelands.

For example, on the interior linings of car doors and large passenger aircraft. They can be printed with conductive tracks. The promise: At least to trim the heavy, expensive and space-consuming cable harnesses. Barho explains that with 100 km of cable in a passenger air display, there is still a lot of air up there.

Another interesting field is the packaging industry - from yoghurt cups to laptop packaging. "By being able to print on materials such as film, paper or glass, we are bringing new functionality to packaging of all kinds. As mentioned at the beginning, we want to make everything suitable for industry 4.0."