Initiatives boost development in flexible electronics

Paul Boughton

Flexible electronics is set to bring about far-reaching changes in the design and conceptualisation of electronics devices in the consumer, medical, and military sectors. The emerging field has demonstrated huge implications in terms of cost reductions owing to printed manufacturing techniques being developed for volume production.

New analysis from Frost & Sullivan, Emerging Trends in Flexible Electronics, finds that flexible electronics have seen drastic evolution since the discovery of organic conductive polymers. There still remains a long way to go before sweeping changes impact our day-to-day lives. However, benefits such as light weight, ruggedness, low costs, possible transparency of electronics, as well as an ease of integration promise to open the doors for new applications in areas where conventional electronics have not been effective.

“While organic semiconductors used in flexible electronics are not a rival to conventional silicon, they offer new avenues of applications that rigid circuits and electronics have not been able to penetrate including flexible displays for packaging or defence applications, flexible sensors for portable diagnostics, and flexible RFID tags for brand protection of products,” notes Technical Insights Research Analyst Sharmishta S.

The market is witnessing the formation of strategic partnerships between material suppliers, original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), and R&D institutes to accelerate technology development and build collaborative value chains. However, product commercialization and time to market would depend largely on leveraging the manufacturing strength of Asia.

Collaboration in research has enabled the pooling of resources of companies and research institutes to produce new materials, enhance the performance levels of organic light emitting diodes (OLEDs) and facilitate the acquisition and dissemination of knowledge. The flexible electronics research environment has seen active funding initiatives from governments, defence establishments, investment banks, and large business organisations.

“While there is a continued focus on the development of flexible devices, initiatives have been made to address manufacturing issues within projects funded by the European Commission, for example, as well as initiatives led by the United States Display Consortium in North America,” explains Sharmishta. “As the field is nascent, there are still requirements to be satisfied in terms of materials performance, lifetimes, testing, and validation to stand the rigours of continuous use in applications.”

The wide spectrum of applications of flexible electronics range from portable military devices to car interiors where electronics can be integrated into the contours of the application. However, the awareness of the potential of this technology remains dismally low in many segments of the market. Several research programs have been initiated to tackle the challenges in manufacturing, encapsulation, and performance of organic semiconductors, which constitute the very basics of flexible electronics.

Promising manufacturing techniques for different applications include inkjet printing, vacuum deposition as well as imprint lithography for different applications depending on the resolution, cost and throughput requirements. Proactive printing companies are widening their horizons and expanding their business to incorporate printing electronics on flexible substrates. Overall, the prospects for the flexible electronics market look optimistic and the field is open to advancement from all quarters.

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