FREIBURG, Germany—Continental A.G. has advanced printed electronics on plastic and rubber materials at its new center for functional printing technologies in Freiburg, in the southwestern state of Baden-Wuerttemberg.
A small team of "highly qualified experts," led by Time Wolfer, have "digitalized" traditional rubber and plastic products with sensor technology, intelligent systems and actuators, Continental said in a Sept. 2 statement.
"My focus here is on integrating intelligent systems and networks," said Wolfer who has been responsible for research projects at the center since autumn 2020.
In particular, he said, the team is looking at the interface between components made of elastomers and the integration of electronics.
One of Wolfer's pioneering projects is the "sensIC," which uses printed elastomer sensor technology in hose lines for electric vehicles. Specifically hoses for the thermal management of vehicle batteries are equipped with integrated temperature sensors.
Supported by a $3.4 million grant from the German ministry of education and research, the project is expected to run for three years.
Continental said it has "high hopes" for sensIC as it can offer a wide range of applications for technology and lower production costs.
"In theory, we can use printed electronics anywhere," said Wolfer, who noted that the product range "is virtually infinite."
The technology also fits in with Continental's strategy to make products intelligent and use them to develop new business models and mobility services.
"Hoses are just one example. But if it works there, it will also work in air springs, belts, conveyor belts and tires, for example," he added.
The project is particularly important as Continental considers it an "industrial benchmark."
"We're using highly productive printing processes in this project to manufacture electrical networks," said Wolfer.
These processes, he said, promise a "very high" throughput of processed surface, and at the same time at a very low cost.
The biggest challenge, Wolfer said, is not only to develop technical systems on a laboratory scale, but also to manufacture them on an industrial scale in collaboration with Conti's Hamburg location.
The systems, he said, have "enormous complexity" on a small scale due to the fine and sensitive structures.
In scaling up, the company will have to deal with further challenges such as thermal expansion, solvents, and high pressures and temperatures.