Prior shakeout in OLED
Over the last five years, there has been a shakeout of Organic LED (OLED) developers and it continues. Most OLED manufacture has moved to Asia, which already has huge display infrastructure and companies that are willing to invest the significant amounts of money required to scale production.
Add-Vision in the US has differentiated itself from the Asian juggernauts by focusing on low cost simple OLED displays for promotions and other applications, rather than premium long life displays for cellphones and televisions. Material supply has been much more global however, with companies such as DuPont, UDC, Kodak, Novaled, Plextronics and Merck holding thousands of patents between them, which they either license, or make and sell material.
Over the years, many companies in OLEDs and similar devices have left the business, such as material supplier ELAM-T, OLED-T, and device manufacturers such as Nanoident, Bioident and MicroEmissive Displays.
Activity has been consolidated such as Merck buying Avecia along with relevant activity in Osram and Sumitomo Chemical buying CDT. Kodak has recently closed its Cambridge UK research unit, but it is still heavily involved in OLED. Some companies with innovative materials have moved into the business over the last few years, such as Plextronics and Novaled, but many more have left overall.
In addition, the number of organizations working on OLED lighting has also reduced in the West, where arguably the work done was not as strongly backed as it needed to be. Although OLEDs have been a long time coming, with some of the original OLED patents expiring within the next two years, we increasingly see more and more companies announcing new, better and larger OLED displays, as we cover regularly on Printed Electronics World.
Shakeout in organic FETs
Following on from the shakeout in OLED developers, IDTechEx sees the same thing happening now in Organic FETs.
For example, ORFID, a developer of vertical geometry organic transistors, has now shut. Motorola has been trying to spin out its printed electronics activities - which are particularly focussed on organic transistor fabrication - but to our knowledge, have failed so far and we believe all work there has stopped. Seiko Epson has shut its organic transistor work in the UK. German based organic device printer PrintedSystems GmbH has also closed. IDTechEx is aware that the owner of another company focused on organic transistors is looking for a buyer.
Such a shakeout is common for most embryonic technologies that exhibit the potential to create massive markets but require significant work to get there. As with OLEDs, huge investment is needed to improve the performance and manufacture scaling of organic transistors to make them applicable to the highest volume markets.
Success is on the way, albeit delayed, with companies using organic transistors to drive e-paper displays. PolymerVision intend to launch product this year and Plastic Logic next year. For RFID, other than PolyIC, OrganicID and Sunchon University Korea, there are few who are seriously bringing organics to market here. There is a huge RFID market that both organics and inorganics (such as those from Kovio) could address at the right performance/cost point, not just for ID alone but also for ID with additional functionality such as displays, sensors etc.
While there is significant work and even industry collaboration to improve the mobilities of organics, we have seen increased interest in printable inorganic materials for transistors such as metal oxides and silicon based inks.
However, trumping all of those in terms of mobility are relatively new forms of organic material - graphene and carbon nantoubes, which have shown mobilities exceeding that of crystalline silicon. Unfortunately, costing of these different materials in volume is as yet unclear.
Where can I buy an organic transistor circuit?
Despite the huge effort invested in organic transistors, the dream of companies being able to print many different simple circuits is still some way away. Smaller investment led companies tend to choose an end use product and pursue that - to the extent of becoming a vertical product company rather than a horizontal solutions provider. End users seeking to make simple circuits that are possible with organics today have very limited choices of who to approach for custom deigns. Transistors are not a product, and as yet, few are pulling together the pieces to make products that end users want.
In contrast to the situation with organic transistors, there is huge interest in organic photovoltaics despite its very poor efficiency and life. It comes from consumer goods companies because they have ample space on their products for the larger area needed and, crucially, they are not prepared to use what they see as the toxic metals and/or corrosive acids of the inorganic and composite photovoltaic alternatives on goods that a child may chew. That is not the case with organic transistors, where the inorganic alternatives are not problematic in this respect.
However, this is an industry of surprises and primitive organic transistors on paper being developed in Portugal, Sweden and Finland may find a place if a product integrator gets involved and hits the right price points.
For more information, attend the IDTechEx Printed Electronics Asia 2009 or Printed Electronics USA 2009 events - dedicated to bringing together end users with technology suppliers.
Source top image: Flexible organic transistor array - credit: Bao Research Group, Stanford University.