Speaking at a recent conference on polymer electronics, Dr Tom McLean, Director of Business Development at Avecia, UK, highlighted the need for significant work to be done on production machines that can make polymer electronic devices outside of the lab environment and not require operation from "five PhD's". He pointed out that some devices made in the lab today are good enough for desired applications, but cannot be commercially produced.
Tom highlighted the general progress of organic semiconductor materials development in the industry, Avecia being one supplier of these. By late 2005/2006, Tom stated that Avecia will achieve a materials performance "good enough" to tackle high volume applications, such as 13.56MHz RFID tags, signage, etc. However, he questioned where the machine makers will be and felt that unless this is addressed now wide scale adoption of polymer electronics will be delayed.
In terms of lifetime, Tom said that a device they made and tested in May 2002 was then stored for a year in normal lighting and heat conditions and when tested again in June 2003, there was minimal performance change. He warned that some may continuously report high performance but only because they drive the circuits at a high voltage, which is not practical or sustainable for commercial products. Another stability factor is stress on the device - when a voltage is applied across a transistor for a period of time its characteristics may change. Currently, Tom said their materials are about the same in terms of stress as amorphous silicon.
Market size and applications
According to Udo Heider, director of Merck Chemicals, the market size for polymer electronics will be $2 billion by 2010, consistent with other views. Major applications will be displays, possibly RFID and other small area disposable "smarts" or wide area sensors, displays etc.
Raghu Das of IDTechEx, UK, indicated that the "killer" application may not have been thought of yet - polymer electronics is a disruptive technology but is not necessarily working down from the military like other technologies have done, such as GPS or cellphones, but instead is and will appear on toys, packages and similar applications where silicon cannot compete on cost, robustness and flexibility.
More collaboration and encouragement in Europe
The VDMA polymer electronics conference in Munich, Germany, on 28 October was attended by over 160 delegates. VDMA is a not-for-profit network of around 3,000 engineering industry companies in Europe. With the help from some members, VDMA hosted this event covering printable and flexible electronics to encourage networking and development. For more information see www.polymerelektronik.org.
VDMA Builds Up a New Platform Polymer Electronics
VDMA (www.vdma.org), the German engineering Federation, installs a new information and communication platform "Polymer Electronics". This platform represents the whole process chain including producers, machine and material makers, end-users and research organisations in this field. The inaugural meeting will be held on December 8th, 2004 in Frankfurt. For further information please visit www.polymerelektronik.org or e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.