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Xerox Claims Printable Electronics Breakthrough 166

adeelarshad82 writes "Xerox announced a new silver ink that it's calling a breakthrough in printable electronics, a leading-edge concept that's generated a lot of discussion but few actual products to date. Why? Precisely because of the issues that Xerox claims to have addressed. In concept, printable electronics is just what it sounds like: using a printer, basically an inkjet, to print electronic circuits. If this can be done reliably, electronic devices can be printed for far less than current methods cost. One can also print the devices on a variety of new materials. The possibilities range from printing on flexible plastic, to paper and cardboard, to fabric."
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Xerox Claims Printable Electronics Breakthrough

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  • Interesting (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Paradyme ( 950782 ) * on Thursday October 29, 2009 @04:57AM (#29907815)
    So, how long till people start downloading designs to print them out at home?
    • Re:Interesting (Score:5, Interesting)

      by ColdWetDog ( 752185 ) on Thursday October 29, 2009 @05:42AM (#29907987) Homepage
      Well that would be a great system, especially for DIY and prototype circuits. No more etch and hassling with masks. The FA is pretty light on details (which appears to be official Slashdot policy these days) and so I don't understand where the 'components' come from. Do you just glue your IC down to the paper / plastic / textile base or does this create the components de novo (rather unlikely for complicated things like an IC, but conceivable for resistors, caps, etc.)?

      Might change the definition of an 'underwire bra' significantly.
      • Re:Interesting (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Bakkster ( 1529253 ) <Bakkster,man&gmail,com> on Thursday October 29, 2009 @08:16AM (#29908639)

        The article only mentions a reduction in silver ink printing temperature allowing for printing on plastics and cardboard, as well as functioning well in open air without being a clean room environment. That tells me it's primarily a PWB printer, no mention of semiconductors for ICs. Of course, it's possible, with enough resolution, to print a resistor or capacitor. However, I believe this technology will just produce the conductors, allowing you to solder any components (hopefully it is able to be soldered to) needed.

        My question is if they can make multiple layer circuits. This should be pretty easy, just print a layer of insulator on top, with holes for any connections between layers. Also curious what their resolution and tolerances are. Obviously this isn't going to go into high-performance industrial applications any time soon, but if it's possible to make reasonable reliable circuits with tolerances to the mil (0.001"), DIYers will be able to make (and pay for!) circuits they never dreamed of doing before.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Bakkster ( 1529253 )

          Replying to myself, I know, but this link [] states Xerox already has printable semiconductors and dielectrics. This breakthrough was for printable conductors of the same quality, meaning that the entire circuit could be printed: conductors, transistors, diodes, resistors, capacitors, inductors. The only additional components that would be needed would be those that require specialized materials (LEDs, for example).

      • by Creepy ( 93888 )

        Prototyping was the first thing that popped into my head, but my brother, a chip designer, said to me once that most electronic circuits don't scale well (e.g. inductance may cause to much line noise), so prototyping may be limited. Not sure how you would do feedthroughs, either (seems like you'd still need to solder), so probably best for simple circuits like the mentioned RFID tags.

    • .... or am I missing something??

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by frozentier ( 1542099 )
      THAT is exactly the point, IMO. We're at the threshold of not only being able do download pirated software, but ALSO being able to download the hardware to run it on.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by mcgrew ( 92797 ) *

      I'm guessing it will be a while; most new tech is pretty expensive. The original IBM PC was four or five thousand dollars, laser printers likewise were very high priced. I doubt these things will be affordable to normal people at first. It sounds more complex than a simple inkjet -- it has to melt silver, and somehow does it so you can print melted silver on plastic without melting the plastic. And previous printers needed a clean room to do it, this new tech doesn't.

      But I could be wrong. TFA says the main

      • It sounds like they're either using some sort of self-arranging alloy or a crystallizing compound which contains silver. FTFA:

        The ink has also been reformulated so that the molecules precisely align themselves in the best configuration to conduct electricity.

        It's a sure bet they're not actually melting silver, again FTFA:

        According to Xerox, one of the key benefits of its technology is that it can print with silver ink at a much lower temperature than competing technologies...

        You can't lower the melting point of a metal while still keeping it conductive without alloying it with something else (as in Field's metal []) or by coming up with a compound which is still a semiconductor, and by their description, sounds as if it crystallizes in such a way that the magnetic poles of its molecules are al

  • Finally (Score:3, Funny)

    by srussia ( 884021 ) on Thursday October 29, 2009 @05:08AM (#29907845)
    I can replace my racks with a three-ring binder!
    • by cjfs ( 1253208 )

      I can replace my racks with a three-ring binder!

      It would seem viable until you realize that $99 printer has $4999.99 cartridges and the first one only comes 1% full.

      • Re:Finally (Score:5, Funny)

        by noundi ( 1044080 ) on Thursday October 29, 2009 @06:11AM (#29908099)

        I can replace my racks with a three-ring binder!

        It would seem viable until you realize that $99 printer has $4999.99 cartridges and the first one only comes 1% full.

        I'm not expecting [] anything else.

        • Re:Finally (Score:5, Insightful)

          by commodore64_love ( 1445365 ) on Thursday October 29, 2009 @07:27AM (#29908389) Journal

          Wow. That HP ink costs 70 times more than crude oil. This is why I bought a laserprinter rather than an inkjet. The initial cost is high, but the ink is your typical photocopier toner, and can last 5000 or more pages. After you pass the first 800 pages the laserprinter is actually cheaper overall.

          • Re:Finally (Score:4, Interesting)

            by zippthorne ( 748122 ) on Thursday October 29, 2009 @09:18AM (#29909125) Journal

            Lots of stuff costs 70x more than crude oil. What was surprising about that link was that HP ink costs twice as much as human blood.

            • Sure, but you can't snort ink.
            • by MobyDisk ( 75490 )

              So we need to either :
              - Package human blood into ink cartridges.
              - Genetically create an animal that excretes HP ink.

            • Bottled water is 5x more expensive than Gasoline.
          • I bought an HP 4100. I had to replace much of the maintenance items (my fault for not paying attention at purchase time), but even with all of that, I'll probably have $200 in it. One toner cartridge good for 30,000 pages. It comes with network support. XP talks to it without stupid drivers or software. And it's fast.

            I also have an HP Laserjet 3. It's slow, but indestructible. And the price was right. It was free.

            I'll never buy a new consumer grade printer again. It's ex-office printers for me from

  • by simoncpu was here ( 1601629 ) on Thursday October 29, 2009 @05:11AM (#29907853)
    I think it would be great if we can attach an electronic version of a printed document so that we can verify its authenticity using digital signatures.
  • by Kupfernigk ( 1190345 ) on Thursday October 29, 2009 @05:14AM (#29907865)
    Until the end of the 20th century, a major market for silver was photography. The digital camera and the inkjet printer have slowly destroyed that market and replaced it with digital imaging. Now there's a new use for the silver which, presumably, had digital imaging not come along would have been much more expensive. (Although color photography ends up more or less silver free and there was considerable recycling, there was still a steady consumption of silver, and as the photography market democratised, the amount of silver in use at a given time was steadily increasing.)
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by tacarat ( 696339 )
      So, possibly time to start investing in silver? If they use it as stated, a lot of silver may bet get dumped into landfills as part of trash packaging.
    • by noidentity ( 188756 ) on Thursday October 29, 2009 @09:00AM (#29908949)

      Until the end of the 20th century, a major market for silver was photography. The digital camera and the inkjet printer have slowly destroyed that market and replaced it with digital imaging.

      Yeah, thankfully we don't have to use silver ink in our inkjet printers. That would make the ink refills really expensive. Oh, wait...

      • In fact, inkjet printing, between the photopaper and expensive inks is much more expensive per-area than traditional photographic printing even with the recent price increases for darkroom materials. It may still end up cheaper overall though, because editing in digital-land is done on the computer instead of on paper. In the darkroom, Ctrl-Z takes the form of a trash bin.
    • Silver already has plenty of industrial uses, however they are not what drive the price of silver.

      The reason most people invest in gold and silver are different: They are a kind of money that no government can print,they are costly to mine. Compare that to the pieces of paper that come out of the printing press in a central bank, and especially the central bank that we have that just doubled their balance sheet, and it is easy to see that the amount of gold and silver remains relatively fixed to the amou

  • by wisebabo ( 638845 ) on Thursday October 29, 2009 @05:26AM (#29907919) Journal

    When I saw the sentence starting "The possibilities..." I mentally filled it in with "are endless".

    I was surprised (and a little gratified) to see the summary actually enumerating some of the possibilities instead of hyping it as is normally done. That's good!

  • Wait for it (Score:5, Funny)

    by Nerdfest ( 867930 ) on Thursday October 29, 2009 @05:36AM (#29907961)
    I can't wait to have a working circuit printed on as a tattoo, with the components inserted as piercings. I'm thinkin' 2 stage amp.
    • by MathFox ( 686808 )
      It could make a short-circuit very painful!
    • Mods, he's very on topic!

      It's like an (semi) unloseable copy of your invention. Espionage aside, if your copy is certified dated properly, it would be a neat defense in lawsuit claims.

    • Yes, but when the only replacement part around that works is tatoo'd into your skin, you are going to miss your skin.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by StripedCow ( 776465 )

      I can see it already:

      "Hey, sorry people, the concert has been canceled, our power amplifier just died"

      "But wait, I have an amplifier tattoo'd on my skin!"

      *goes sitting in the back of the stage hooked up to the equipment, while other people are enjoying the concert*

  • by Gopal.V ( 532678 ) on Thursday October 29, 2009 @05:55AM (#29908045) Homepage Journal

    I'd love to prototype on something like this. But I doubt if the actual output off an inkjet would work beyond the first time I sneeze over it.

    Honestly, in some sense I got into software rather than electronics because it was so hard to experiment with electronics freely. This could lower that barrier for hobbyists & more importantly, kids. It needn't last through the weekend, but if it works and you can see it work, it's enough.

    • Conductive Inkjet [] in the UK are going to be doing a prototyping service coming out in a month or so which should be cheaper than normal routes. But not the same as printing a circuit at home.

    • by pclminion ( 145572 ) on Thursday October 29, 2009 @12:48PM (#29912355)
      I know a guy who used to work at HP. He was an ink chemist, although not personally responsible for the prices you pay ;-) He's a diehard electronics hobbyist, and he's been printing his own boards this way for several years now. I've seen some of his boards, and they seem to be very durable. And this was with an inkjet printer he hacked himself, with home-made ink (he won't tell me what's in it)
    • I recall seeing an article years ago about OLED displays. Someone actually made a functional prototype using an inkjet printer. They put the chemicals in the cartridge and printed an electronic display. My first thought was being able to print light-up signs. I've always wondered why the geek hobbyists haven't done this yet.
  • Spamming clothes (Score:4, Insightful)

    by maxwell demon ( 590494 ) on Thursday October 29, 2009 @06:07AM (#29908079) Journal

    From the article:

    which will allow wearable electronics -- a T-shirt with a display, say, replacing a printed slogan for marketing or for showing support for a political candidate.

    Great, just what I want: Having my clothes turned into a spamming device.
    There are certainly countless examples of how wearable electronics could be put to good use, but the first thing they think of is advertising. Very telling, I'd say.

  • Components? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Xest ( 935314 ) on Thursday October 29, 2009 @06:19AM (#29908121)

    Being able to print the circuit is all well and good, but presumably it's literally just the underlying circuit and components still need to be attached? I'm guessing you can't just print a resistor, a transistor, an IC chip or something?

    If I'm correct in this assumption, presumably this technology doesn't really open any new doors in terms of what can be created, only makes the process for testing and eventually producing circuit designs cheaper and possibly quicker?

    • No, I believe that they are talking about actually printing circuits. I know they were talking about printing OLED displays - this would require printing LEDs. An LED is a diode and if you can print a diode you can print a transistor. Resistors, capacitors, and inductors would be easy compared to transistors.

      The whole point of this process is for cheap, flexible, disposable electronics. If you have to use chips, the cost would probably increase as soldering chips onto a piece of plastic has to be har

      • by Xest ( 935314 )

        That really is quite cool then, if you can print a full blown working circuit onto any printable surface that really does open up a lot of doors for new technology.

      • The ability to print semiconductors (diodes, LEDs, and transistors) does not necessarily translate to the ability to print resistors (semiconductors have a near-constant voltage drop regardless of current, very different from a resistor), capacitors (no way this thing has the resolution to print *that* much surface area, and you still need a dielectric for any decent capacitance), or inductors (resolution again, plus you won't get much unless you can coil the conductor). There will still be a need for surfa

        • Resistors could be printed by using a semi-conductive compound. Adjust the width, length, and depth of the printed element to adjust the value.

          Capacitors could be printed in multiple layers. First a conductive layer, then a dielectric layer, then a conductive layer. Repeat the process to produce a capacitor of the desired value. They have already developed the required dielectric compounds.

          Inductors are obvious, but likely limited in value due to the difficulties in printing in three dimensions. I

      • so what you are saying is, the annoying musical animated fruit-loops box from minority report is mere decades away?
    • Re:Components? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Genda ( 560240 ) <> on Thursday October 29, 2009 @06:47AM (#29908223) Journal

      Actually, there are long term research projects going on into other printable materials that can produce resistors, capacitors, and FET transistors that would be useful in building complete digital devices. You're never going to get the kind of densities available in silicon, however, you can stack many layers of plastic film, and create a three dimensional device that would yield serious computing possibilities. You might even be able mix optical and electronic technologies in a large device of this type. You could build custom flexible logic devices home, business, or play. You could build intelligence into machines and products that you never considered candidates for intelligence before. It would be a transformative technology.

      • by Xest ( 935314 )

        Now you mention it I do recall reading about the idea of printing multiple layers to produce 3D devices that are still essentially almost flat because of how thin the layers are, although I can't remember where from!

        As you say, being able to print full blown working circuits would open up a lot of new doors!

    • Well your silver "lane" will have a certain resistance. Printing a thin wiggely line will make a nice resistor. Two lines just next to each other a capacitor. Obviously you will be limited in the range of Ohms / Farads available, but some basic components should be possible.
  • I'm a long way from Einstein, but even I know that.

    I admit, it does sound very cool; and maybe on plastic (or polymer) it might have some chance of working. Paper, cardboard, or fabrics however are not a good idea.

    • It's going to be very hard to start a fire on the typical 1 to 5V potential used in everyday electronics. I don't suppose that kind of thing will be used for power electronic. And yeah, I know lithium batteries can easily start a fire but they don't need paper PCBs to do that.

    • Open up some electronics sometime, or for that matter, dissect some batteries. What do they often use for insulation? Paper.

      Heck, paper used to be used to insulate high voltage AC in appliances and homes.

      It's not all that dangerous, especially for low-voltage use. For higher-current applications you probably want flame-retardant treatment on the paper to reduce the risk of combustion, but it really isn't a problem.

    • Einstein wouldn't have known that. He was a mathematical theoretical physicist, not an engineer. But you are wrong for another reason. Most low end PCBs are actually printed on a polymer-loaded paper substrate not that far from cardboard. Most modern paper burns very badly because a major component is clay - it's extremely hard to burn a magazine as they tend to have very highly loaded paper to allow full color printing. A modern mechanically polished paper substrate printed with a thin layer of UV cured po
    • by LWATCDR ( 28044 )

      Not really. you must heat paper to 451f to get it to ignite. Back in the old days they even used cotton on house current wires for insulation it worked but wasn't as safe as what we have now.
      If you are talking about high voltage, high power stuff then yea not the best idea. If you are talking about the power levels in most computers then it is fine.

      If you can do it on say paper or fabric how about ceramic? That would be even safer than the PCB boards we use now as far as fire goes.

  • I see a use in wearables [], devices built into your clothes ..

    Making (microsoft) ACPI not work with Linux ..

    "Foxconn .. have several different tables, a group for Windws XP and Vista, a group for 2000, a group for NT, Me, 95, 98, etc. that just errors out, and one for LINUX [].

    The one for Linux points to a badly written table that does not correspond to the board's ACPI implementation, causing weird kernel errors, strange system freezing, no suspend or hibernate, and other problems"

    'You are
  • There are dozens of patents, going back to 1940, for printing conductors on a surface.

      IBM based their 360 line of computers on a set of circuit modules which had the conductors (probably silk-screen printed) onto a ceramic wafer.

    So there is nothing remotely new about printing conductors. Or resistors.

    You can't print semiconductors-- transistors, diodes, FETs or LEDS-- they have to be very pure crystalline solids with definite junctions, so that's a big roadblock.

    • The problem is that to sinter "normal" silver particles you used to need extremely high temperatures, normal oven sintering would destroy paper and plastic substrates (although flash sintering with microwaves or high intensity strobes can still work). They managed to create 5 nm sized particle suspensions which can be sintered at much lower temperatures.

      You seriously never heard of polymer semiconductors? (OLEDs ring a bell?)

      • by LWATCDR ( 28044 )

        If you could do this on fabric maybe you could make a camouflage suite that has tiny optical sensors and oleds :)

  • Now I can print a silver etched paper hat antenna which will magnify the signals into my brain. Oh, listen to all the sweet voices!
  • ThinkGeek will have a field day.
    • by six11 ( 579 )

      Oh, they have. A friend of mine did her PhD on computationally-enhanced textiles. []

      Do-it-yourself rapid prototyping machinery is roughly in the same state that home desktop publishing was back in 1980. Fabrication devices like 3D printers, laser cutters, CNC routers, and soon robotic garment makers will eventually become cheap enough that you will likely have access to one (if not in your home, then perhaps at your school or local crazy artist co-op). The thing is, most people have such a consumption mentalit

  • AT&T Western Electric printed the cards for many items, including the computers for the Safeguard ABM system and their class-4 phone switch cards, in the 1970s. sprayed silver ink.

    no patent forrrrr YOU.

  • by LuxuryYacht ( 229372 ) on Thursday October 29, 2009 @01:07PM (#29912661) Homepage

    as water based ink and does not require sintering or secondary processing and works well on standard inkjet or copier paper: [] []

    Commercial inkjet systems for printing electronics on a wide range of materials has also been available for some time: []

    Multilayer conductive pcb traces including passive and active components are already being inkjet printed. The current geometries however for components are in the few micron range. A couple of decades behind current semiconductor processing but far ahead of current pcb fabrication techniques.

  • I feel a disturbance in the force ... GPLv4.

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