With their constantly falling production costs, flexible, ultralight integrated electronic systems and sensors have been making inroads into countless new fields of application over the last few years. Online component surveillance, automated tracking of goods, smart medication packaging, and interactive product information are just a few examples of the many areas of application. In innumerable further functions, too, this technology is a fundamental constituent of the vision of an Internet of Things (IoT).
While the materials used are often more complex than conventional electronic products in their manufacture, the additive production techniques enable a considerably lower material intensity. On the other hand, the great application potential of printed electronic components stands in contrast to ecological issues arising from production, usage and disposal. The use of precious metals in nano-based conductive inks and adhesives is giving rise to an increased need for metallic resources, whose recyclability presents great challenges in view of their low concentrations within the product system.
Fraunhofer IBP has been accompanying the development of printed electronics in close cooperation with market leaders from industry and research and has assessed these products under ecological and economic aspects. The knowledge thereby gained extends to all stages of the value chain and thus provides valuable insights beyond the confines of individual disciplines; both direct environmental impacts and secondary effects on existing product systems have been assessed. The investigations also include a comparison of printed electronic products against those conventionally produced.