I was catching up on my readings and read “Printed Electronics – Salvation or Snake Oil” by Bruce Kahn published in PIA’s “The Magazine” earlier this year. I really liked Mr. Kahn’s brutal honesty on this topic. As he stated, “I have been involved in printed electronics for over 10 years. In every one of those years, pundits, prognosticators, and soothsayers predicted great things for the future, particularly the near future, most frequently ‘next year’.”
Although he did a nice job of making the reader consider that which glitters is not always gold, I felt he could have gone further and reminded the audience that too often we think of technology as the product rather than as a tool to create a successful business.
In the case of printed electronics AND 3D printing, these technologies are not really printing – they are enhanced forms of manufacturing. Consequently, the target audience for that product is not normally people who buy print – and that’s where many of these soothsayers and futurists go astray in challenging our industry to expand into these markets. Yes, some print providers may have the know-how to make the technology work, but what is required are customers who buy – in serious amounts – what they are capable of producing. It also requires a sales force capable of selling in that market space. This is a MAJOR challenge. One just needs to see the uphill battle the industry (as a whole) has experienced in having established sales reps sell digital printed products.
Does that mean printers should just fold up their tents and go away? NO. It means we need to focus on the fact that our industry is an integral part of the channels used in marketing products and providing information. That’s where our focus should be – not necessarily manufacturing technologies which happen to have “printing” in their title.