Indro Mukerjee, CEO at Plastic Logic, explores the latest innovations in the printed electronics industry and how these revolutionary technologies are sweeping the industry
To date, electronics have mostly been rigid and to some degree quite fragile, limiting its applications. However, that is about to change. In future, electronics will be flexible, robust, low-power and low cost, enabling displays and computing power to be deployed in many more places and in many more ways.
Today we have the capability to develop and manufacture ultra-thin, ultra-lightweight and high-quality plastic displays of any size in both colour and monochrome. We can create displays that are as thin as a piece of paper – and just as flexible. What’s more, these displays are much more rugged than glass, so even if they’re dropped, stood on or accidently splashed with water, they’ll continue to work just fine. These plastic displays offer huge advantages over conventional screens being lighter and hard-wearing with proven lifetimes of over five years and more than ten million page updates.
For many years, there has been discussion about a paperless future, but this has yet to happen in today’s offices and homes due to the lack of an adequate paper replacement solution. However, we believe that we are now on the cusp of an industry revolution that will turn this discussion into a reality. Lightweight, flexible and extremely rugged displays – which are resilient to being dropped and able to shrug off day-to-day knocks – could provide paper replacement across the display industry in the very near future.
Imagine being able to read documents and make impromptu notes on-the-go (updating to the Cloud) on a piece of e-paper. Or you could have a flexible display that wirelessly receives documents, images and other data, such as PDF files from your smartphone. You could also have your book collection on one lightweight plastic screen or be able to read your newspaper on flexible e-paper, receiving streamed content which is fully readable in sunlight directly from your smart phone.
Unlocking plastic potential
All of this and a lot more will be made possible by flexible plastic displays in a way, which traditional glass-based displays cannot manage. In fact, one of the most compelling advantages of plastic electronics is that the weight and flexibility of the display is significantly better than glass, and there are several possibilities for novel applications that simply have not been possible with glass screens.
Today there is increasing demand for this kind of technology in devices with large displays that are heavy and can be easily broken, such as eReaders and smartphones. In the years to come, you could see all kinds of uses for this technology, ranging from smart watches, right through to train tickets and security passes that display real-time information. For instance, a train ticket could show if your train is running late, or a wristband could show who will be performing next at a music festival - the possibilities really are endless.
In the future we will see displays and electronics printed into clothes, packaging, store labels, smart cards, advertising hoardings and many other products. As well as opening up new markets, printed electronics will displace existing technologies, such as conventional displays and silicon-based photovoltaics, in many applications.
To help develop these technologies, Plastic Logic is working in partnership with many companies. Examples of the company’s collaborative efforts include flexible sensor arrays, smart cards, tags and many other areas where organic transistors can be added to existing products in ways not previously possible with conventional electronics. By using a sensor material instead of an electrophoretic display media, it is possible to make large area sensors with the same organic transistor array technology used in the company’s displays.
Mastering mass production
It took more than 20 years for glass based LCD production to reach today’s mass production levels. The company have already achieved benchmarked yields comparable to the LCD industry within only three years in a volume manufacturing facility, which is a groundbreaking prospect for the wider plastic electronics industry.
Many challenges needed to be overcome along the way, which ranged from the polymer molecular level electronics to mechanical engineering challenges. According to IDTechEx, the plastic electronics industry could be comparable to today’s silicon based semiconductor industry in less than 20 years. That is something the company sees as an amazing pace.
By 2030, plastic electronics will be anywhere and everywhere. While creating a new industry is certainly not without challenges, these challenges are being overcome through collaborative efforts and by pairing expertise to develop and create revolutionary new technologies.
A wide variety of companies, including electronic goods manufacturers, now have the opportunity to be part of the plastic electronics revolution by actively integrating this new technology into current and new and improved applications and products.