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29 May 2015

Thinfilm gets EU funding to join printed electronics working group ATLASS

Smart labelling maker Thinfilm is receiving €444,000 from the European Commission’s €80bn Horizon 2020 research and innovation program, in order to join an initiative to drive the advancement of printed electronics.

The group project, called ATLASS (Advanced high-resolution printing of organic Transistors for Large-Area Smart Surfaces), will involve a number of parties collaborating to address “materials, cost, scale and performance drivers in high-resolution print technologies.”

ATLASS was launched by Merck, an €11bn company that specializes in healthcare, life sciences and high performance materials. It comprises 11 companies and 4 research institutes, funded for the next three and a half years by €7.9m in EC funding.

The aim of ATLASS is to “bring intelligence and communication to everyday objects, a concept at the very heart of the megatrend of the Internet of Things, which will only be truly enabled by printed electronics,” read the announcement.

Over the course of the project, ATLASS will develop multifunctional materials, develop and optimize high-resolution gravure printing and nano imprinting processes, develop and integrate in-line optical inspection and yield management, and scale-up the materials and printing techniques to demonstrate this readiness at a high readiness level.

The goal demonstrations that ATLASS wants to be able to show off include “temperature tags for smart food packaging, electronic labels for logistics, force sensing foils for automotive safety and proximity sensing for safer human-robot collaboration.” These are a pretty wide-ranging set of objectives, which will affect verticals in every industry.

Printed electronics are so important to the IoT because of their low cost to build. In forecasts that envision the ubiquitous connectivity of every-day objects, particularly durable consumer goods, printed electronic labels are the most promising way of adding electronic bar codes and unique identities to things ranging from milk bottles to shoes to luxury branded handbags. Simply put, you probably don’t make it to the 50bn-300bn range seen in IoT device number forecasts without embracing printed electronics in a big way.

ATLASS is comprised of: Merck Chemicals (an affiliate of Merck based in the UK), Merck (Germany), Arkema France (France); AMO (Germany), Commisariat à l´énergie atomique et aux energies alternatives (France), Joanneum Research (Austria), VTT (Finland), GRT (Germany,) In-Core Systems (France), FlexEnable (UK), TU/e (Netherlands), Efficient Innovation (France), Thinfilm Electronics (Sweden), Concept Tech (Austria), and The Shadow Robot Company (UK).

Thinfilm’s labels:

Back in May 2014, Thinfilm unveiled the first NFC-enabled RFID label, which would allow an NFC reader (typically a smartphone) to read the status of an integrated thermometer in the label. Its demonstration used an active (battery powered) label to report ambient temperatures, which were then logged in a cloud database by a smartphone.

Later in July, the company partnered with UK-based Evrythng, a startup that has received investment from Cisco and Samsung, which provides identity management as a service – a system that can categorize and manage unique identities for connected objects, such as the Thinfilm smart labels.

These Active Digital Identities are likened to profiles on a social network, which Evrythng can use to connect end devices back to its customers – in this case linking the label to the brand or manufacturer that adopted it. Since the Evrythng partnership, Thinfilm joined the GSMA, and signed two large labelling deals with drinks maker Diageo (to put smart labels on bottles of Johnnie Walker) and the World Customs Organization.

The bigger news for the company was its January deal with Xerox to manufacture up to a billion of its printed smart labels annually. For Xerox, the process is not all too different from its traditional printing business, as the electrical components used in the Thinfilm labels are designed to be printed directly onto a paper or plastic substrate – which is why they can be manufactured at scale so affordably.

With its latest venture, “Thinfilm is pleased to have been selected as a key contributor for this important project,” said Davor Sutija, Thinfilm’s CEO. “We’re excited to collaborate with Merck Chemicals and other industry leaders and look forward to helping drive the program’s success.”