IDTechEx recently visited Taiwan. In 2007, Taiwan's IC industry was $47 billion and its flat panel display industry was $34.36 billion. Leveraging this, it will be a formidable player in printed electronics.
Indeed, Taiwanese companies have already secured their position as the leading manufacturer of e-paper displays. For example, PVI is the World's largest producer of e-display modules for e-readers, and it recently purchased US based E-ink, the biggest in e-paper display technology. In March this year AUO acquired a major share in e-paper company Sipix (more than 30%). Most recently, Wistron has acquired PolymerVision and intends to continue development of the Readius foldable e-reader.
PVI, AUO and Wistron are all headquartered in Taiwan. The pace of e-reader manufacture is certainly hotting up - earlier this month PVI announced co-operation with Chi Mei Optoelectronics (CMI), who will make PVI's TFTs on its fifth generation manufacturing technology - this is more than 12 times the capacity PVI has and allows it to make larger displays of 10 inches.
In contrast to these activities, the majority of OLED work is in Japan and Korea.
During the trip IDTechEx visited ITRI, a Taiwanese government and industry funded institution with some 5,800 staff. ITRI is working on many different aspects of printed electronics and the following is a summary of those activities.
ITRI has demonstrated flexible e-paper displays with a 5mm bending radius. The 4.7" display has an inkjet printed organic transistor backplane incorporating 76,000 transistors. The mobility of the transistors on plastic is 2cm2/Vs.
ITRI has won several awards for its paper speaker technology - FleXpeaker. The device witnessed by IDTechEx was 2.2 meters x 50 cms, providing 95dB at 1 meter. The paper speaker uses just one fifth to one tenth of the power of a typical speaker, and has a frequency range of 500Hz to 20KHz - normally 3 conventional speaker domes are needed for that range. The speaker material, which is on a paper substrate, can be cut into shapes and will still operate effectively.
A demonstration is shown in a YouTube video clip here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LNgYToJC1RA.
Future developments are roll to roll manufacture of the speaker and transparent versions. Last week, ITRI was awarded the 2009 Wall Street Journal Technology Innovation Award in Consumer Electronics for its FleXpeaker
ITRI is working on sensors and demonstrated a flexible pressure sensor with a linear response in the range of 0.1 to 10 psi and higher. The linear error is less than 2.5% (compared to other thin film pressure sensors which can have errors in the range of 3% to 7%). ITRI believe that making this in a roll to roll basis can reduce the cost to about one sixth to a half compared to similar pressure sensors.
In lighting ITRI is leveraging Taiwan's strength in LEDs. They own a fundamental patent governing AC LED connectivity so the interface to grid power is simple. Now ITRI are working on paths to mass production of flexible LEDs for lighting and other display effects. In addition, working with partners, ITRI has demonstrated simple flexible LCDs which are just a few layers thick. The effect is similar to electroluminescent displays but the LCD version is more efficient and requires lower voltage. 3 meter long samples have been produced, made on a roll to roll process.
ITRI is working closely with industry to integrate printed electronics in products, leveraging the incredible Taiwanese electronics industry. Our tour of their facilities showed a roll to roll development and production line and a wide range of other tools.
For more information visit http://www.itri.org.tw/eng/.
Also read E-Paper Displays: Markets, Forecasts, Technologies 2010-2020 and Organic & Printed Electronics in East Asia.
And attend Printed Electronics USA 2009.