Functional Materials and Printed Electronics is the siren song of the printing industry; with more content moving from the printed page to the virtual page, printers are looking for where their future is. One direction the industry is moving in is to embrace the fact that printing is an industrial process, and that with advancement in inks and substrates more functional capabilities can be added to printed materials. Unfortunately, most members of the printing industry neither understand function or the industrial aspects of printing.
Clemson is the first university to offer an undergraduate course in functional materials and printed electronics to graphic communications students. In this course, students learn the foundational knowledge of functional materials and printed electronics, including chemical and electrical theory, simple circuit design, and the effects of various fabrication methods to create functional devices. In addition to the study of theories, principles, and tracking the latest innovations in printed electronics from various sources, students learn through hands on production of several functional devices.
Students create human-computer interfaces in the form of membrane switch controllers for gaming systems and robotic devices. These interfaces are made using only functional inks, flexible plastic substrates, and corrugated board. At the end of the semester, the students compete head to head using the controllers they produce.
Students create electroluminescent circuits, or euphemistically “print light”. Each semester the specifics of the EL project changes depending upon student ideas and creativity. Clemson’s student produced EL circuits have received numerous printing industry awards, including awards from TAGA, PICA, SGIA, and the IGAEA; and have drawn the attention of FlexTech Alliance.
Advanced students, who choose to continue their studies beyond the introductory class, are guided in research projects in functional materials and printed electronics. These advanced students have successfully created “posterizations of light”, corrugated book lights, and published their research with TAGA. Present students are researching induced power for functional packaging, striving to create interactive graphics on paper, and more.
Another innovation at Clemson has been the inclusion of Packaging Science and Material Science students in the functional materials and printed electronics course. This approach of including students from multiple disciplines is a guide for the industry itself; it is only through the cooperation of members of many disciplines from electrical engineering to printing process science can the field of printed electronics and functional materials grow. Clemson will lead the way.