Surprisingly, Europe has been pulling ahead of the rest of the world in many aspects of printed and potentially printed electronics just lately and this will be revealed by the following organisations and others at the forthcoming conference Printed Electronics Europe April 17-18 at Cambridge University UK. Remarkable advances from Korea, Japan and the US will also be presented.
Europe gets into production first
In 2007, Nanoident opened the world's first printed semiconductor factory in Austria, making photodetector arrays initially. Plastic Logic of the UK raised $100 million to build the world's first factory making displays with printed organic transistor backplanes. It will be in Dresden Germany, the city where AMD develops thin film memory technology, having registered more patents on the subject than any other company. Thin Film Electronics of Sweden is another global leader in developing printed memory. Poly IC of Germany is selling the first printed transistor organic RFID labels and Prof Song of Manchester University has set a world record in highest frequency printed transistors, with a spin off to sell them. European companies elumin8 and Pelikon are among those leading the commercialisation of electroluminescent displays. ACREO and Menippos in Europe are among the global leaders in printing electronics on paper.
The first trade association and leading initiatives
It is in Germany that the world's first trade association for organic electronics has been set up. The Organic Electronics Association (OE-A) is an information and communication platform and represents the whole process chain in organic electronics. Its members are international leading companies and institutions, ranging from R&D institutes, component and material suppliers, equipment and tool suppliers to producers / system integrators and end-users. More than 65 companies from Europe and the US work together to promote the establishment of a competitive production infrastructure for organic electronics. The vision of OE-A is to build a bridge between science, technology and application. Nearly 3000 member companies from the engineering industry make its parent, VDMA, the largest industry association in Europe.
Leadership in lighting
To pursue printed and thin film lighting, the OLLA project is European Commission project led by Philips in the Netherlands without match anywhere else in the world. The aim of the OLLA project is to research and develop high brightness, high efficient white OLEDs and demonstrate its use in general lighting applications. The UK Displays and Lighting Network is a vibrant central hub of activity for the displays and lighting community. Designed to stimulate innovation in the key technology sectors by promoting collaboration, best practice and knowledge sharing between industry and academia. By encouraging partnerships and teamwork, UKDL aims to support science base through to end-users. Such government support for the new laminar lighting is not seen elsewhere.
Major players, but tough competition
BASF in Germany is the largest chemical company in the world and it shares leadership in printed electronic materials with Merck, H.C. Starck, CIBA and other European companies though US companies such as Plextronics have been entering this scene rapidly of late, picking up many awards. Ink Jet printing was first developed in Europe and it is one of the preferred methods of making printed electronics, with many European companies progressing new developments alongside leaders such as the Japanese company Fuji Dimatix. European names such as Xennia, Technology, Xaar, Ixpressia and PixDro come to mind though there is also fine work being done by such companies as Imaging Technology International of the US and the UK in this area and Soligie of the US is very successful in providing total, integrated manufacturing solutions for printed electronics. Indeed, the US has huge military money being pumped into the subject and global leadership in many aspects.
Strength in depth
Europe probably has the most robust vertical integration of effort in printed electronics. For example, Cambridge University in the UK discovered light emitting polymers and it spins of many impressive startups in printed and thin film electronics as do Johannes Kepler University in Austria and institutes in Germany, Switzerland and elsewhere. The work of the large number of Fraunhofer institutes in Germany is extremely impressive. The dye sensitized solar cell was invented in Switzerland and it is in Switzerland and Austria that some of the finest photovoltaic developments take place today.
Of course, Germany largely makes the world's reel to reel printing machines and all these companies are also taking a keen interest in printing electronics. For once, it is the Europeans who have learnt not to be in perpetual R&D when it comes to printed and thin film electronics, though the Japanese giants and others are racing to catch up and NanoDynamics, NanoMas Technologies, Unidym and others in the US are often leading in the new wave of nano materials and engineering for printing electronics.
The conference Printed Electronics Europe has sold out its exhibition space and registered a record number of delegates, though there is room for more. It will not obsess about polymer electronics but cover the full picture - after all, most of the best devices employ both organic and inorganic elements nowadays and many entirely inorganic solutions are pulling ahead. Subjects covered are Applications and Markets, Thin Film Transistor Circuits, Power (Batteries, fuel cells and photovoltaics), Sensors, Displays (OLED, electrophoretic, electrochromatic, electroluminescent...) Materials, Manufacturing, VC/Investors forum, Printed electronics achievement awards.
There are even visits to four global leaders in the region - Imaging Technology International, Veeco, Cambridge Display Technology's $25million Technology Development Centre with state-of-the-art equipment designed to provide a flexible P-OLED. Fourthly, Centre for Advanced Photonics and Electronics will be open to conference visitors. CAPE is a collaboration between academics and commercial enterprises, researching into advanced photonics and electronics. The centre has many activities relating to printed electronics such as the development of carbon nanotubes, transparent conductive materials to replace the problematic ITO, polysilicon TFTs, Zinc Oxide transistor layers, bio-sensors and much more. The center is backed by companies such as Emerson & Cuming and ALPS. The new impressive facility includes several clean rooms and delegates visiting this site will also see demonstrations.