One demonstration in particular, was showing a large rubber strip with different conductive patterns connecting a power source to different LEDs. As the rubber strip was elongated between two moving clamps and the traces’ conductivity decreased, the LEDs shone dimmer.
So, what was this demonstration about at Continental? Armin Senne, Business Manager Flexo at Continental explained me that his company aspired to create a Centre of Functional Printing Technologies, for customers to explore new materials and possibilities, create small runs of prototypes for their project ideas and get ready for serial production.
But aren’t R&D labs around the world already offering such services? After all, at LOPEC alone, there were probably a dozen labs exhibiting their functional printing prowess.
“They only have pieces of the project and they do basic research at a lab scale” noted Senne, “we want to take all what’s available commercially, the substrates, the different inks, and characterize them and integrate them ourselves”. According to Senne, you can’t just trust the specifications that are provided for given materials until you have experienced and characterized them first-hand in a real production environment. In other words, for liability issues, it would be too risky for Continental to solely put its faith in datasheets before rolling out new tyres or other rubber-based automotive parts with integrated printed electronics.
“Not even our biggest competitors do this, we’ll open the centre between this summer and the end of the year, we have already secured a location for this and we are currently buying equipment for materials characterization” added Senne.
Among the potential applications described by Senne were the possibility to laminate rubber sheets with their printed electronic circuits and sensor within the bulk of tires, to connect them directly to tire pressure sensors. Sensors (essentially resistive traces) could also be built into conveyor or transmission belts for predictive maintenance, to monitor the belt’s tension and detect the likelihood that a belt could break within days. The printed electronic sensors could also flexibly fit in hoses or air spring systems commercialized by Continental.
Since the company has been servicing the particular needs of discrete customers (including mining industrials with kilometre-long conveyor belts), why not setting up a dedicated research and experimentation centre open to all potential customers?
In a promotional brochure, Continental encourages customers to bring their own ideas or projects for further development, feasibility studies, upscaling and production. The company seeks to develop new ink technologies and compatible functional materials, focusing on smart packaging, flexible electronics, sensors, hybrid electronics, energy harvesting and lighting and HMI.
Continental’s Centre of Functional Printing Technologies will operate as an incubator, offer consultancy and provide functional printing prototyping services together with performance and endurance tests. It will be part of the Benecke-Hornschuch Surface Group.
Continental AG – www.continental-corporation.com