LONDON – Thin Film Electronics ASA (Oslo, Norway), a developer of ferroelectric polarization polymer memory, has joined forces with a number of partners to develop a low-cost printed electronic sensor platform that could be used to monitor the temperature of perishable goods such as food and pharmaceuticals.
The partners include PST Systems Ltd. (Cape Town, South Africa) a spin-out of the University of Cape Town NanoSciences Innovation Centre, a developer of printed silicon electronics with a focus on physical sensors.
Thin Film has also signed a non-exclusive licensing agreement with research institute Acreo AB (Kista, Sweden), which develops printed displays, and into a technology assessment agreement with Imprint Energy Inc. (Alameda, Calif.) which is developing printed battery technology.
A prototype printed sensor system is expected to measure about 8-cm by 4-cm in size and include temperature sensor, two-digit electrochromic display, battery and up to 1,600 transistors of memory and state-machine logic. There would also be an optional contact-based readout so that temperature history could be uploaded to a computer.
Thin Film typically works with PVDF-copolymer (polyvinyldifluoride) as its active material. The company has been pursuing the development of plastic memory for more than a decade and for a time collaborated with Intel on research. Minimum device dimensions are approximately 1,000 times larger than the leading-edge in silicon. The company is working with 65-micron design rules with a long-term aim of getting below 40-micron.
The final functionality of the system will depend on the application which might require a broad or narrow temperature range to be monitored with more or less precision, might need only notification if band limits are exceeded or for how long a product has been at a high temperature, said Davor Sutija, CEO of Thin Film.
Basic components and design of a printed temperature tag. Source: Thin Film Electronics.
Thin Film estimates that the battery would provide 1-mAhr nominal capacity at 3-V and an on-board voltage pump would be used to take it up to 15-V to operate the printed electronics. Thin Film is looking to provide at least a six-month life for such systems.
Being manufactured entirely using printing technologies on plastic substrate the system will be inherently low-cost and in high volume the cost should reduce to a few tens of cents per unit, Sutija said.
These low cost monitoring solutions will certainly attract attention - but how compatible are they with food? Can the battery and circuit be cut with a knife and safely ingested with the food? If not, how will the packaging be designed to ensure that the monitor is removed before the food is prepared?
I can tell that the partnership between the few companies would be good because they would be collaborating in a way that brings out the best in their collective expertise. I think we can look forward to interesting new functions for plastic films, such as plastic films that can tell us the expiry of foods.
Matt - http://www.eezytrade.co.uk