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Making Memories With Specialty Printing

(March 2011) posted on Tue May 03, 2011

The success of PE memory devices depends significantly on the cost.

By Randall Sherman

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Thin-film memory
In December, 2010, ThinFilm Electronics announced the first commercially available rewriteable memory device produced using roll-to-roll printing processes. The 20-bit device can be read and re-written indefinitely using a hand-held reader/writer, a design of which is offered to customers through a development kit. ThinFilm received its first order through one of the ten largest toy manufacturers out of Japan and hopes to apply its technology to interactive games, collector cards, RFID, and biometric applications. The company is targeting addressable applications of 40- to 128-bit memories and hopes soon to merge printed transistors together through an alliance with Xerox PARC. Other partners include Inktec (a publicly listed company in Korea and a qualified partner of display manufacturers Samsung and LG), and also development agreements with PolyIC and Soligie.

While it may seem that 20 bits appears like very little information, ThinFilm has an algorithm that can represent 220 permutations—that is, the table can have 1,048,576 different permutations or states. For an interactive games (their primary target market), this means that avatars can achieve various skill levels, carry a list of items, wield particular weapons, and that this personalization can be placed on a card showing the particular character that the child selects.

Obviously, the success of PE memory devices depends significantly on the cost. ThinFilm CEO Davor Sutija is keenly aware of this and indicates that current prices are around five cents a device for orders more than 1 million. Costs will naturally come down with volume, yet rather than see the unit cost drop, Sutija expects the performance to increase proportionately. ThinFilm’s competition is not believed to be with read-only devices, but rather addressable solutions. The combination of “logic and memory is truly revolutionary ... and the applications are numerous,” Sutija says. It seems that addressable memories will open up the opportunity for creating all-printed devices for the first time by combining logic and memory with other elements, such as sensors and printed power sources or disposable displays.

By storing user and game-flow information, ThinFilm’s memory enables interactive experiences and makes cards and toys intelligent. The company is focused on providing low-power, non-volatile, rewritable polymer memory technology and products in the PE market. Using printing to manufacture electronic memory makes it possible to reduce the number of process steps, manufacturing costs, and environmental impact as compared to traditional semiconductor processes.


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