With printed electronics, Continental aims for smart rubber

March 16, 2018 // By Julien Happich
With printed electronics, Continental aims for smart rubber
At LOPEC (Large Organic Printed Electronics Conference) held in Munich this week, automotive solutions provider and tire maker Continental AG was demonstrating printed electronics on rubber. At the company's booth were many samples of flexible and stretchable rubber sheets printed with fine traces of silver ink, forming intricate circuit patterns and multiple resistor-based sensors.

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.

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