Pioneering flexible electronics company PragmatIC has unveiled ground-breaking technology that heralds mass production of the printed equivalent of a silicon chip, an ultra-thin electronic sticker that will help make the ‘internet of things’ a reality.
The Cambridge firm, founded in December 2010, has received £2.5 million from Innovate UK for a range of funded projects to create these flexible integrated circuits.
Thinner than a human hair, they can be easily embedded in any surface on a wide range of everyday items.
An Innovate UK award of £250,000 in 2014 helped Pragmatic develop a prototype for this ultra-thin film version of its technology.
PragmatIC’s growing customer base now includes multi-national companies across a number of sectors, including consumer goods, packaging, security printing and mainstream electronics. Employee numbers have more than doubled in the last year.
The firm’s latest innovation, FlexLogIC, transfers the production process into a self-contained, fully automated, modular system for high-volume manufacturing.
It is being developed with funding from the EU Horizon 2020 programme and exposes the market to connectivity and computing power at a cost that is 100 or even 1,000 times cheaper than the silicon chip.
PragmatIC, headed by a serial entrepreneur in CEO Scott White, has a pilot-scale manufacturing line at the National Centre for Printable Electronics within the Centre for Process Innovation (CPI) at Sedgefield, part of Innovate UK’s Catapult network.
FlexLogIC – a ‘factory in a box’ that can be dropped into a customer’s manufacturing process – is a real game-changer and the key to commercial scale-up, according to Richard Price, the company’s chief technology officer:
The ‘intelligence everywhere’ vision requires a step-change in the cost and the capacity of electronics manufacturing. It needs to be flexible and able to be introduced seamlessly into everyday labels but scaled to the eventual trillions of units at the right cost point.
We’ve been working with CPI over the last 4 years to develop our first-generation technology, and we have further developments and improvements behind that which will continue.
The next phase is to develop that production line capability, which will scale to billions of circuits a year from one production line.
Production line capability
Richard was one of the founders of the company in 2010. By 2014 there were a dozen employees but there are now over 30 and that number is expected to grow by some 30% a year.
We’ve benefited from most of the funded project options available through Innovate UK, including 2 Knowledge Transfer Partnerships. There’s been a lot of support from Innovate UK for what we’re doing.
PragmatIC’s potential was further underlined in December 2014 when it completed a £5.4 million equity funding round led by Cambridge Innovation Capital with support from ARM Holdings and existing shareholders.
The internet of things
PragmatIC is a partner in PING (Printed Intelligent NFC Game cards and Packaging) a consortium of world-leading companies backed by Horizon 2020 and looking to bring flexible electronics from the laboratory into mainstream markets. Watch their video.
Logistics was always a likely market for intelligent labelling but customers are now inquiring about packaging that can monitor temperature or humidity on, say, a lorry in Africa carrying melons or flowers, adds Richard.
That smart packaging area is what will open up the internet of things.