The players in Canada’s rapidly growing printed electronics sector can look forward to an industry conference that’s scaling up along with them.

Unlike last year’s conference, which focused on educating attendees about the applications for printed electronics, the featured speakers at this year’s Canadian Printable/Flexible/Wearable Electronics Symposium (CPES) will be focused on helping guests – and their companies – find new partners and expand their customer base, Canadian Printable Electronics Industry Association (CPEIA) CEO Peter Kallai tells ITBusiness.ca.

CPEIA CEO Peter Kallai says that in contrast to last year, this year’s CPES will be focused on helping companies build a partner ecosystem and expand their customer base.

“We’re at a turning point in the association’s life, and CPES itself,” Kallai says. “We are evolving from the traditional association which oversees regulatory issues, provides a bit of networking, and conducts the annual conference for our members to being more of an ecosystem-building alliance.”

In particular, this year’s conference will be focusing on the industrial uses of printed electronics, in contrast to last year’s, which focused on manufacturing, Kallai says.

“We’re trying to showcase that this technology is already used in commercial production, and you should look at it because companies in other parts of the world, including Canada, have already adopted it, and it’s no longer at the R&D phase but the commercial production phase,” he says.

“It’s part of a new strategy laid out by our members, which basically involves helping companies scale up in response to what our members told us they needed,” he continues. “In the first two years the board was pushing really, really hard, and I was pushing really really hard as the CEO, but now we’re seeing the members tell us what they want to see. And we have enough members of critical size and scale – 80 members – that we’re able to better understand what they want.”

Days one and two: A focus on the industry and its leaders

Day one of the conference will be focusing on established companies in priority verticals, such as smart packaging, smart retail, connected homes, and intelligent buildings, Kallai says, with industry leaders such as PAC, Packaging Consortium president and CEO James Downham and Continental Automated Buildings Association (CABA) president and CEO Ron Zimmer scheduled to appear.

“We have a wide range of speakers, but it’s not about startups, it’s about people who are in the field – OmSignal, for example, or MedEng Systems in Ottawa, which has been in business for about a decade and owns 80 per cent of the bomb suit market globally, but without anybody knowing them,” Kallai says. “I think it’s important that people see yes, there are lots of startup companies out there, but there’s also robust commercialization.”

Day two, by contrast, will focus on scaling from research and development to manufacturing, with industry leaders such as 3M Co. executive director Randy Frank and Sun Chemical Corp. CTO Russell Schwartz scheduled to appear.

“Sun Chemical is the number one print ink company in the world, but they have huge interest in electronic materials,” Kallai says. “The CTO coming out to Canada is signaling that global companies are very, very interested in Canada and building relationships.”

Other international firms presenting at the conference include German chemical conglomerate Henkel AG & Co.; Singapore-based international solutions provider VDL Enabling Technologies Group; and AFELIM (Association française de l’électronique imprimée) – essentially France’s version of CPEIA.

Canada, meanwhile, will be represented by established companies such as Montreal-based custom membrane switch manufacturing firm Memtronik Innovations Inc.; Toronto-based Array Marketing Group; and Kitchener-Waterloo-based desktop circuit board printer manufacturer Voltera.

“We don’t just want our members to hear about manufacturing ability, we want them to know about the manufacturing process,” Kallai says.

Day three: Helping startups enter the fray

For day three, the organization is trying something new: a series of classes aimed at helping participants better understand the technology and its commercial applications; and a financing panel including Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC) business centre manager Kirk Irving and MaRS venture services head Jason MacFarlane aimed at helping small and medium-sized businesses (SMB)s with fewer than 50 employees seek funding.

In fact, five SMBs – which Kallai calls “micro-enterprises” – are currently being mentored by Irving and will be giving presentations to the financing panel during the conference.

“The financing panel is new, and is a response to our members’ needs,” Kallai explains. “Some of our members are medium sized enterprises of maybe 100, 150 people, but they’re looking for capital to scale up their processes… Our goal is to help them raise a substantial amount of capital from private sector sources as well as the government.”

Above all, Kallai expects this year’s CPES to meets its members’ scaling and manufacturing challenges, noting that a key goal for the association has always been to assist its members both in the months leading up to and during its annual conference.

“The number-one message that we want attendees to get out of this conference is, ‘This is a robust technology that is being industrialized now,'” he says. “Not the future. Now.

“From printable electronics to flexible or 3D printable electronics, we have a wide range of technical solutions that manufacturing companies can take advantage of, and if we’re not on their horizon, we should be.”

CPES 2017 will be taking place between May 24 and 26 at Toronto’s Centennial College. Visit the event’s official website for more information.

Full disclosure: ITBusiness.ca parent company ITWC is a media sponsor of CPES 2017.

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