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Invotec and Printed Electronics: The Story Behind the News

Added 08/10/2012

Invotec Group Ltd., a leading European manufacturer of high-technology PCBs, recently announced a strengthening of its strategic partnership by acquiring a shareholding in additive electronics and integration specialists, Printed Electronics Ltd. (PEL). Technical Editor Pete Starkey met with Invotec Managing Director Tim Tatton and PEL Technical Director Dr. Neil Chilton at their offices in Tamworth, UK, to discuss the significance of the partnership and the new opportunities it would create.

Starkey: So, Tim, why has Invotec decided to partner with Printed Electronics?

Tatton: The main reason for us is that working closely with PEL and leveraging new capabilities in the area of printed electronics will be beneficial to our customer base. We have already seen some of our customers for high technology ultra-high reliability PCBs start joint projects with Invotec and PEL to investigate how printed electronic components can be incorporated into their products to enhance their function or performance.

Starkey: And for PEL, Neil, how do you see the on-going relationship with Invotec?

Chilton: Invotec is a great partner for us and, as Tim said, we have some long-standing mutual customer relationships. Whilst we are a small company in comparison to Invotec, over the six years since PEL started we have developed strong ties with some of the major players in aerospace, defence and other related markets, so there are synergies there. We have a long history of working together with the team here at Invotec and to strengthen the relationship makes perfect sense. PEL’s focus is on adding new functionality using printed electronic methods, and we are not involved in the very high-volume sector of the Printed Electronic market where over the past few years there has been a great deal of, sadly unrealised, expectations.

Starkey: Isn’t there a crossover with what your two companies do?

Chilton: I don’t see that there is competition between what PEL and Invotec do: Much of what printed electronics can offer is far removed from conventional electronics and one cannot match the reliability and robustness of conventional PCB interconnects. Ours are mostly new products for different applications. PEL’s product development roadmap is all about form factor and to put it simply, putting electronics in “new places.” For example, some of our thin and flexible packaging products are based on paper substrates and incorporate embedded printed batteries and logic and light sources. Conceivably, this can be done in very long reel-to-reel production. And, some of these are intended to be biodegradable so are far removed from high reliability PCBs. PEL products serve a specific customer purpose and often don’t look at all like conventional PCB assemblies.

Tatton: I would concur with that. Invotec has a long history of making some of the most missioncritical PCBs in use in Europe and our manufacturing processes are proven and strictly defined. The processes used at PEL, for example inkjet-printing nano-metal interconnects, are very different to our processes and both companies operate entirely separately in the Tamworth facility. We make very different products to each other, but we have mutual interest from our customers.

Starkey: What are the long-term aims of your partnership?

Chilton: Firstly, we believe that, in the field of printed electronics, we need to educate to ensure that the design community fully understands what can and, just as importantly, cannot yet be done with printed electronics. We work hard explaining what PEL can offer to the electronics community by making presentations around the world. Once people understand what is in, what we call, the Printed Electronic Toolkit, they can design for printed electronics--and that really gets the creative designers very interested. Working with Invotec’s technical team we have already started to engage with an even wider range of designers.

Tatton: The partnership with PEL is all about ensuring that our customer base can access leading edge technology. Whether that is in our PCB offering or the new technologies offered by PEL that will surely be to the benefit of European electronics as a whole.

Starkey: Yes, I can certainly see the synergy between Invotec and PEL and it’s clear that with your complementary technologies and your acknowledged applications engineering capabilities you are in a very strong position to encourage designers to think more laterally and help them to extend the boundaries and realise significant innovations. Tim, Neil, many thanks for sharing your views. I wish you every success.