By James Lee

“If you’re in mobile, or an industry that supports mobile, or are looking to make contacts in the mobile industry, you simply have to attend Mobile World Congress (MWC) in 2016.”

That was part of the pitch for the last MWC, an annual pilgrimage for the global mobile industry that brings together more than 94,000 attendees for four very busy days.

Having walked miles of exhibition floor during the MWC last month in Barcelona, it was very clear:

“If you’re in printable, flexible or wearable electronics (PE), and looking to understand where and how these technologies can enable the next generation of mobile devices and applications, MWC is a must-attend event.”

Did anyone at MWC really talk about PE? No, not in terms of an embedded or additive technology for discreet components and sub-systems. Were there applications featured where PE could, or does, come into play? Absolutely.

The Internet of Things – Industrial and consumer

Sensors was a big one for many industrial and consumer applications related to the Internet of Things.

Companies were talking about building automation systems for the commercial space and sensor networks for automation and manufacturing equipment that use either 4G or 5G networks to remotely monitor function and performance.

There was a lot of discussion around IoT sensing applications for harsh environments, such as resource extraction, chemically sensitive areas, locations where there are concerns about ignition and for embedded scenarios like inside a pipeline.

On the other end of the spectrum, there was the usual assortment of intelligent appliances for the connected home. Oral B invited visitors to try its Bluetooth-enabled “interactive electric toothbrush” with an app to manage brushing techniques – this was a big hit with the delegates.

A Korean startup demonstrated an “IoT-enabled diaper” for adults, otherwise known as an incontinence brief. A hybrid electronic kit communicates with disposable sensors inside the diaper. These sensors cost about 50 or 60 cents each. When the sensor picks up moisture, it triggers an alarm. In an assisted living environment, this can mean big savings in the cost of care delivery. Healthcare staff don’t have to spend so much time making rounds to check on residents. Instead, they can wait to react on an event-by-event basis.

Wireless sensors, antennas will rule

From diapers to pipelines, the need is the same   ̶ wireless sensors that meet new standards for low-cost, high-volume production, disposability, discreet physical size and tolerance for various types of environmental conditions.

In some applications, PE has already claimed its market position. Take the humble glucose test strip used with handheld devices by consumers to manage diabetes. PE has been used to make these for years. But the next step is to connect that device through your home’s wireless network to your electronic health record at the doctor’s office. Then there are wearables meant to detect falls and automatically send an alert, so seniors who can’t get up can rest assured that help is on the way.

Antennas is a huge area where PE is already common in the marketplace, but great opportunities remain to push the envelope further, with new applications for in-vehicle systems (major automakers had a big presence at MWC) and in retail, to engage consumers at the point of sale through near field communications (NFC).

Having been at MWC, one thing is clear – IoT is not some passing fad. It is the future. In many applications, it’s already the present. PE is the crucial enabler, because it overcomes traditional barriers related to cost, manufacturing and deployment to deliver true value to the end user and the brand owner.

James Lee is Director, Technology and Innovation, at Jones Packaging, where he focuses on innovative packaging manufacturing and design technologies for tomorrow.

CPEIA Members who want to learn more about IoT can download our related white paper.