How PragmatIC brings intelligence to “dumb” objects and CPI brings talent to the North-East
SMART technology and Internet of Things (IoT) devices are projected to reach 75.44 billion worldwide by 2025, doubling the current estimation of 30.73 at the end of 2020.
Internet-enabled devices sit at the helm of modern life, but mass connectivity is still in its infancy.
Rates of adoption come down to varying social and economic factors but much of the time, like artificial intelligence, it’s because a technology’s momentum surpasses real-world capabilities.
For some businesses, barriers may be financial, technical or relating to hardware, but for printed electronics company PragmatIC, which has proven technology that brings intelligence and connectivity to trillions of everyday objects, this is not the case.
Cambridge-based PragmatIC, which has a new billion-unit production facility in NETPark, Sedgefield, recently won an award for product innovation, design and ingenuity within its family of flexible circuits, ConnectICs, that are thinner than human hair. The award also considered real-world application and revenue generation, ensuring the winning company had developed more than a buzzword.
Scott White, chief executive at PragmatIC, sees the company’s ultra-low-cost technology having a pivotal role in improving lives. Uses span across business and consumer markets, such as inventory and supply chain management, item identification and tracking, food and beverage, personal, home and healthcare, while bringing digital interactivity to the likes of toys.
He says: “When I first got involved in the printed electronics sector, it quickly became apparent that while good progress was being made in areas like flexible displays and printed batteries, no one had cracked a thin, flexible equivalent of the silicon integrated circuit (IC) – or chip – which forms the brain of all our electronics devices.
“Discussions with potential customers, particularly large consumer goods brands, confirmed a strong market demand for our flexible integrated circuits (FlexICs) across a wide range of applications.
“I, along with PragmatIC’s co-founder Dr Richard Price, felt that FlexICs could not become commercially viable in high volume and high yield based on printing techniques and solution-processed materials, so we took a much more pragmatic approach to the problem: leveraging conventional semiconductor processes, but re-engineered to use very low cost thin-film materials rather than silicon.”
Uses of the FlexICs are versatile but are particularly popular in the B2B space – the company received more than 20 million orders within two months of launching one of the first ConnectIC products, which was for identifying and tracking tags attached to objects.
PragmatIC is not enjoying its success alone, having collaborated with its partners in both Cambridge and the North-East.
The Centre for Process Innovation (CPI), which “connects the dots” between academia, businesses, government and investors, played an instrumental role in PragmatIC’s transition R&D to pilot production through the reduction of risk, bringing the business to the North-East where it continues to operate.
Boasting an impressive track record, companies that have worked with CPI have gone on to receive more than £1bn from private investors, creating new products and manufacturing processes that support a cleaner environment, healthier society and a strong local and national economy.
The two companies began working together in 2012, allowing PragmatIC to access equipment needed to develop prototypes.
Mr White says: “If we had bought this ourselves, it would have cost millions of pounds, and taken many months to be ready.
“With CPI’s facility, we were able to start pilot process development quickly and with low risk. Since then we have invested in our own equipment, but we were able to do this after pilot production had already been proven, and with the benefits of all the learnings gained using those tools.”
Director of Electronics at CPI, John Cocker, who also heads up capabilities in Flexible Hybrid Electronics, Printed Electronics and Photonics, based at CPI’s NETPark and Newton Aycliffe sites, says: “Now more than ever, attracting new investment to the North-East and translating technology into the market is going to be critical, and by working together, we can begin to see a step-change in the level of investment and productivity within our region.
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The North East Technology Park provides a dynamic and supportive environment to accelerate the growth of ambitious, innovative, high tech companies into global markets. NETPark encourages collaborative multidisciplinary links, driving innovation, enterprise and economic prosperity.
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CPI has developed a specialist offering to support SMEs looking to develop their printable electronics applications and our partnership with Business Durham has been instrumental in attracting several SMEs to locate here in the region.
The quality of the facilities at NETPark and the attitude of staff is first class. It has a really dynamic, innovative atmosphere.
Access to quality facilities was one of the main drivers for deciding to locate the business at the NETPark. We have been able to use this as a launch pad to link into support from CPI and world-class expertise from Durham University.
We initially came because of the printable electronics centre but access to a highly skilled semi conductor workforce in the North East has been a key factor in us staying and growing here, as well as the value for money office space and the access to funding.
It fits perfectly for us that we’re surrounded by like-minded companies at NETPark. There are a number of highly skilled people in the area who can help us grow our business. The facilities and services offered by NETPark are first class, they make office life simple and engaging.
The proximity to the universities and the infrastructure are very important factors. Ultimately having a presence in Europe is very valuable to us and we intend to stay at NETPark for many years to come.