SMART technology and Internet of Things (IoT) devices are projected to reach 75.44 billion worldwide by 2025, doubling the current estimation of 30.73 at the end of 2020.

Internet-enabled devices sit at the helm of modern life, but mass connectivity is still in its infancy.

Rates of adoption come down to varying social and economic factors but much of the time, like artificial intelligence, it’s because a technology’s momentum surpasses real-world capabilities.

For some businesses, barriers may be financial, technical or relating to hardware, but for printed electronics company PragmatIC, which has proven technology that brings intelligence and connectivity to trillions of everyday objects, this is not the case.

Cambridge-based PragmatIC, which has a new billion-unit production facility in NETPark, Sedgefield, recently won an award for product innovation, design and ingenuity within its family of flexible circuits, ConnectICs, that are thinner than human hair. The award also considered real-world application and revenue generation, ensuring the winning company had developed more than a buzzword.

Scott White, chief executive at PragmatIC, sees the company’s ultra-low-cost technology having a pivotal role in improving lives. Uses span across business and consumer markets, such as inventory and supply chain management, item identification and tracking, food and beverage, personal, home and healthcare, while bringing digital interactivity to the likes of toys.

He says: “When I first got involved in the printed electronics sector, it quickly became apparent that while good progress was being made in areas like flexible displays and printed batteries, no one had cracked a thin, flexible equivalent of the silicon integrated circuit (IC) – or chip – which forms the brain of all our electronics devices.

“Discussions with potential customers, particularly large consumer goods brands, confirmed a strong market demand for our flexible integrated circuits (FlexICs) across a wide range of applications.

“I, along with PragmatIC's co-founder Dr Richard Price, felt that FlexICs could not become commercially viable in high volume and high yield based on printing techniques and solution-processed materials, so we took a much more pragmatic approach to the problem: leveraging conventional semiconductor processes, but re-engineered to use very low cost thin-film materials rather than silicon.”

Uses of the FlexICs are versatile but are particularly popular in the B2B space – the company received more than 20 million orders within two months of launching one of the first ConnectIC products, which was for identifying and tracking tags attached to objects.

PragmatIC is not enjoying its success alone, having collaborated with its partners in both Cambridge and the North-East.

The Centre for Process Innovation (CPI), which “connects the dots” between academia, businesses, government and investors, played an instrumental role in PragmatIC’s transition R&D to pilot production through the reduction of risk, bringing the business to the North-East where it continues to operate.

Boasting an impressive track record, companies that have worked with CPI have gone on to receive more than £1bn from private investors, creating new products and manufacturing processes that support a cleaner environment, healthier society and a strong local and national economy.

The two companies began working together in 2012, allowing PragmatIC to access equipment needed to develop prototypes.

Mr White says: “If we had bought this ourselves, it would have cost millions of pounds, and taken many months to be ready.

“With CPI’s facility, we were able to start pilot process development quickly and with low risk. Since then we have invested in our own equipment, but we were able to do this after pilot production had already been proven, and with the benefits of all the learnings gained using those tools.”

Director of Electronics at CPI, John Cocker, who also heads up capabilities in Flexible Hybrid Electronics, Printed Electronics and Photonics, based at CPI’s NETPark and Newton Aycliffe sites, says: “Now more than ever, attracting new investment to the North-East and translating technology into the market is going to be critical, and by working together, we can begin to see a step-change in the level of investment and productivity within our region.

“PragmatIC’s technology has the chance to revolutionise a myriad of industries from intelligent packaging to fast-moving consumer goods, to wireless traceability of documents for security and identification.

“The company is poised to revolutionise everyday living by providing consumers with real-time information about every aspect of their environment.”

The electronic company’s ability to bring intelligence to "dumb" objects and extract information from them is drumming up excitement in the medical sector specifically, which benefits from real-time information on samples such as blood, urine and saliva.

PragmatIC, which was first attracted to the North-East due because of CPI, says it “makes sense” to continue growing in the region, with several collaborations now based here, including the pathology use case, which is being led by Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Gateshead.

Mr White said: “The application I’m currently most excited about is the tracking of pathology samples within the NHS. This has the potential for massive savings, estimated at £400m per annum, as well as improving the experience of both patients and doctors – for example by eliminating lost samples, and automatically fast-tracking high priority tests.”

While the CPI and its range of specialist centres for high-value services may be bringing business into the region, the organisation itself is looking outward and is opening a Medicines Manufacturing Innovation Centre in Glasgow.

Mr Cocker adds: “Through bringing together these key partners in unique innovation networks, we seek to enhance cross-sector knowledge transfer to deliver solutions that accelerate the innovation cycle for businesses.

“We have a home here in the North-East, but we've always looked outwards, nationally and even globally. We've always been open to working with any company that appreciates the relationship between innovation and productivity. That's always been our main criteria and we don't tend to regionalise it.”