Navigant Research Blog

Commercial Buildings and Printed Electronics: Staid No Longer

Noah Goldstein — June 17, 2016

modern square and skyscrapersThe staid modern commercial building is in a state of evolution. The change is both cerebral and physical—and occurring at a rapid pace. New sensors, analytics, and controls that improve efficiency, services, and occupant comfort and safety while making the facilities cheaper to operate are coming to market. Navigant Research expects the global building automation system (BAS) market to grow from $58 billion in revenue in 2013 to $91.9 billion in 2023. This relatively modest growth does not capture the additional value that new and advanced sensors and controls—enabled with new technologies such as printable and flexible electronics—will bring to commercial office space.

A Fusion

Printed electronics can be hailed as close to the pinnacle of the digital age, a fusion of mass production, computer design, and innovations in circuit board printing and microfabrication. The domain of commercial building applications, while well-established, has the potential to be a rich application for printed electronics. This is due to two main factors:

  • Building technology is rapidly adopting fully digital controls and energy efficient applications.
  • The flexible and extensible nature of printed electronics as a platform enables close to infinite customizability of the equipment and devices themselves.

The Role of Printed Electronics

A recent white paper, jointly published by the Canadian Printable Electronics Industry Association (CPEIA) and the Continental Automated Buildings Association (CABA), examines how printable and flexible electronics can play a role in evolving the function and operation of commercial buildings through new additive manufacturing technology. The paper focuses on the major components of BASs, in addition to lighting, HVAC, and fire & safety. It explores how printed electronics can change building operations and automation systems, enabling improved controls, sensors, and ultimately better conditions for those inside. This paper also examines the degree to which these technologies are ready for development and deployment using the technology readiness levels defined by NASA.

The white paper presents specific example applications where printed electronics can provide disruptive and compelling alternatives to some of the conventional technologies used in the intelligent buildings industry. For example, self-sensing transparent printed organic LEDs (OLEDs) could sense, at the fixture, how much light is needed, putting lighting control at the luminaire for optimal tailored lighting conditions. According to Navigant Research’s OLED Lighting for Residential and Commercial Buildings report, the North American OLED market is set to double in size in the next 10 years. At the same time, printed air quality sensors could provide a better indoor environment to building inhabitants, with cheap printed, embedded sensors being deployed in a rich network in a building.

While investment in these technologies is still needed, printed electronics have the potential to improve the performance of BASs and, in turn, increase the value of commercial space.

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