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Thinfilm Teams With Xerox PARC For Printed Memory Device

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelance and long standing contributor to TechWeek Europe

The Palo Alto Research Center has teamed up with Thinfilm to develop non-volatile memory on plastic sheets

A Norwegian firm that specialises in polymer memory, Thinfilm Film Electronics ASA, has teamed up with Xerox’s world famous Palo Alto Research Center (Parc) to develop a low cost memory prototype embedded on a plastic sheet.

A few months ago, the two parties unveiled a scalable printed CMOS memory prototype encased in plastic film that combined both printed transistors and printed digital memory.

Founded in 1997, Thinfilm has been developing commercial applications for printed memory products, using functional polymer material.

Thinfilm Addressable Memory

The Thinfilm Addressable Memory prototype is said to be the world’s first printed non-volatile memory device, addressed with complementary organic circuits, the organic equivalent of CMOS circuitry. It consists of Thinfilm’s printed memory and Parc’s transistors.

“Thinfilm Addressable Memory combines Thinfilm’s polymer-based memory technology with Parc’s transistor technology using complementary pairs of n-type and p-type transistors to construct the circuits,” said Xerox Parc officials in a statement. “The addition of the integrated circuits makes the roll-to-roll printed Thinfilm Memory addressable by printable logic.”

The flexible memory product, which consumes very little power and has rewritable memory, could be used in sensors, RFID tags, food packaging and smart toys.

The expected low cost allows for  integration with sensors and other electronic components. Unlike many other memory products, it is said to be environmentally friendly and can be produced using high volume, roll-to-roll printing.

The green claim is validated, according to Xerox Parc, because using a printing process to manufacture electronics minimises the number of process steps and toxins used producing conventional memory. In turn, this dramatically reduces manufacturing costs and lowers the environmental impact compared with traditional semiconductor processes.

“This milestone is an important step toward a new generation of electronics that will include the prospect of inexpensive memory everywhere,” said Ross Bringans, vp at Parc Electronic Materials and Devices Laboratory. “We’re partnering with Thinfilm because they have shown that they can deliver a scalable, commercially viable version of this memory that will change the way people interact with the world.”

“We have demonstrated that one can address an array of memory cells using printed logic. This opens up new fields of use, as now addressable memory can be combined with sensors, power sources and antennas to power smart applications,” said Davor Sutija, Thinfilm CEO. “This prototype is a demonstration that low-cost printed integrated systems and the tagging of everyday objects is possible, enabling Thinfilm’s vision of ‘memory everywhere’.”

World Famous

Xerox Parc is famous in technology circles because, during the 1970s, it invented many of the technologies that the computer industry still uses, such as the graphical user interface (GUI), and even drop down menus. It also invented laser printers and the PDF file format.

But tragically, it missed out on commercialising these products, which was successfully done by companies such as Apple and Microsoft, to name but two. This time, Parc hopes to share in any profits that accrue.

The tech sector continues to see scientists developing improvements and new products, like the team of University of Illinois engineers who recently created a system that restored electrical conductivity to a cracked circuit.