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Graphic Communication Unveils Printed Electronics Degree

Graphic Communication Unveils Printed Electronics Degree
Printed electronics have a number of amazing and innovative applications.

Printing technologies are no longer just about printing graphics on paper. The industry is progressively expanding to develop technologies that make possible science-fiction-like inventions such as books that light up when touched and clothes that contain electronic components.

Printed electronics, a set of printing techniques used to create electrical devices, are changing conceptions of what printing is and what it means for the 21st century.

Combining industry and academia, Cal Poly’s new master’s degree and professional certificate programs in printed electronics and functional imaging are positioning the campus for industry leadership in innovation.

“It’s a very new, emerging industry. There are many major companies watching what other people are doing,” said Malcolm Keif, graphic communication professor and graduate program coordinator. “Cal Poly is at the forefront of education in this area and will be among the thought leaders on this new technology and manufacturing methodology.”

The new program features a certificate and graduate degree option. The program offers fundamental core courses online to accommodate students’ busy lives, yet later in the program, provides classroom and laboratory activities for more hands-on and applied manufacturing.

“The approach is focused on how you make printed electronics products, how you produce them — the manufacturing side,” Keif said. “Our [undergraduate] program, which emphasizes printing technologies, has evolved over 70 years. Some of those existing technologies for graphics are applicable to functional printing. We are taking what we know and applying it to printed electronics.”


Keif further explained that the appeal of printed electronics is that they allow companies to create many new products. Cal Poly students have developed new items through this emerging area of study, most recently a waterproof timer for surfboard rentals. Students’ efforts on the project earned a win at the 2014 Large-Area, Organic & Printed Electronics Convention (LOPE-C) in Munich in the freestyle demonstrator category.

A team of Cal Poly faculty and students also collaborated to create an interactive printed electronics cover, among the first of its kind, for Canvas Magazine. Using electrochromic technology, the team developed a design featuring a maze drawn into a journal that was initiated by a dog-eared corner and continued with the use of metal coins as switches. By triggering the different parts of the maze, new information was revealed as the reader progressed through the maze design.

According to Keif, Cal Poly’s participation in the magazine cover project helped kick-start the new degree program by showcasing the possibilities printed electronics has to offer and accentuating the need for the new degree. 

“Printing has been around for hundreds of years and is very mature. Although traditional publication markets have declining printing needs, packaging, outdoor advertising, and other industrial printing remain strong. We are growing our digital media offerings for these applications, and we see printed electronics and functional imaging as the next big thing for printing applications,” said Keif.

With that in mind, Cal Poly took action and is now leading both industry and academia in this emerging field. “To my knowledge, we are the first university in the United States to offer a degree in printed electronics,” said Keif. “We felt like we needed to offer our students the most advanced exposure, and are now doing so.”


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