InnovationLab and Heidelberger Druckmaschinen collaborate in industrial production of printed and organic sensors


InnovationLab, an expert in printed and organic electronics, announced a partnership with Heidelberger Druckmaschinen AG (Heidelberg, Germany). By working with the world's leading manufacturer of sheetfed offset presses, the company is able to produce cost-effective printed and organic sensors in large quantities. For the first time, the cooperation enables the development and production of customised pressure sensors on an industrial scale and at economic costs.

The market for organic and flexible printed sensors is expected to reach a volume of USD4.5bn by 2030, according to the market research company IDTechEx . This growth will open up completely new areas of application in the automotive industry, medical technology, warehouse logistics and many other markets. However, in order to satisfy this demand, a new approach is required for the entire process – from initial design to production.

"Entering the development and industrial production of printed and organic electronics is a milestone for Heidelberg and Germany as a business location," says Rainer Hundsdörfer, CEO of Heidelberg. "We see opportunities for growth in the two to three-digit million Euro range in the production of high-tech sensors. Thanks to our partnership with InnovationLab, we can offer the highest design quality and reliability, shorter material parts lists and the largest volumes. We are able to print enough sensors in less than an hour to cover the area of a tennis court.”

“The first step towards broad acceptance of printed and organic sensors is good design – this has always been one of our strengths," explains Luat Nguyen, managing director of InnovationLab GmbH. "The second step is reliable and high-quality series production. Our cooperation with Heidelberg enables us to meet both requirements and offer printed and organic electronics from a single source. Our customers will benefit from a fast and seamless transition from design and feasibility studies to market launch and series production. We call this our Lab2Fab concept."

Conventionally, sensors are manufactured in a complex multi-stage production process in semiconductor foundries. However, this approach also has disadvantages: The cycles from development to production are long, iterations are costly, as is the unit price of the sensors. In addition, the choice of substrate is usually limited to rigid materials such as silicon. All this makes these sensors rather unsuitable for many applications.

In contrast, the production of printed sensors using the roll-to-roll printing process offers a wider choice of functional materials, substrates and deposition methods. The resulting design flexibility makes a variety of new applications possible.

The most important advantages at a glance:

- A wide range of materials, including organic semiconductors and nanomaterials, (transparent) electrically conductive inks, and pressure and temperature sensitive materials, allows the choice between rigid substrates (e.g. glass, ITO and silicon) and flexible substrates (e.g. PET, PEN, TPU and flexible glass).

- The production of sensors using a printing process requires only a two-stage process and saves time and resources; the costs for the materials are much lower.

- Sensors can be printed on flexible and even biodegradable materials such as textiles. This opens up completely new applications, such as printed sensor films that can be wrapped around car batteries to monitor battery condition in real time, or printed sensors in wound dressings that measure how much pressure is applied to the wound or how much moisture is present within the dressing. In addition, flexible printed sensors can track supply chain conditions as well as food cold chain compliance.

InnovationLab offers an ISO 9001 certified facility and the processes used comply with IATF 16949 requirements for quality management systems in the automotive industry. Customers can choose between two production sites, both of which have clean rooms, depending on the progress of the project and the volumes requested, which is crucial for the quality and reliability of the printing process.

InnovationLab has a heavily modified label printing machine that enables prototype construction and pilot production of up to one million (finger-sized) sensors per day. Heidelberger Druckmaschinen AG's production site in Wiesloch-Walldorf also uses an advanced printing machine that is used exclusively for the industrial production of printed sensors and can be operated in three shifts.

Caption: Industrial production of sensors for digital occlusion control (photo: InnovationLab)

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