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Printed Electronics World
Posted on June 25, 2007 by  & 

Flexible is a Big Market - Bendable is Not

The business of printed and potentially printed electronics suffers from loose usage of words. Take flexible electronics. The word is much abused. This or that company announces a slightly bendable thin glass display. Press it a little too much and it breaks into lethal shards of glass. Some talk of circuits deposited on stainless steel foil. This may spring back when released and it may give sharp edges if broken. Both may be heavy and both may be problematical in, say, a food factory and the only reason glass and stainless steel are used today is because no one can yet figure out how to carry out those particular processes at low enough temperature for paper or low cost plastic film to be used.
 
Some of these products are very impressive and go some way to deserving the adjective flexible. For instance, LG Philips LCD and UDC have demonstrated an AMOLED on stainless steel only 150 microns in thickness but you will not be rolling it into your mobile phone any time soon. Prime View International has demonstrated a bendable electrophoretic display using Philips intellectual property and so has Bridgestone.
 
 
Rollable, foldable, stretchable
 
The huge market is for electronics deposited on paper and polymer film because these can be tightly rollable, foldable and even sometimes stretchable. They are more likely to be disposable, wearable and truly portable, even incorporated into designer clothing, architectural features, tents and rucksacks.
 
Imagine circuits you can roll up into a cigar case or fold into your pocket. Now that is flexible. The Plastic Logic electrophoretic display driven by organic transistors can do that and so can the Toppan Printing electrophoretic display driven by inorganic transistors.
 
Most of the electrophoretic displays are based on E Ink "imaging ink" and that company predicts that "hundreds of thousands" of rigid, bendable and truly flexible displays using its ink will be sold in the next 12 months. Millions yearly will surely follow, with unit prices in the region of $50 each but the tens of millions and above are almost certain to be truly flexible and much lower in cost.
 
 
Huge markets
 
Truly flexible displays are very thin and lightweight and that means that the markets they can address are at least one hundred times bigger than for merely bendable products. Although the target is to deposit electronics on the lowest cost, most prevalent packaging materials, along the way, we often have to compromise, depending on the component we are depositing.
 
For example, printing Thin Film Transistor Circuits TFTCs directly onto products and packaging is at least ten years away. Some TFTC processes and applications cannot even be performed with specially made polyethylene terephthalate PET film. A typical compromise is polyethylene napthalate PEN, which is slightly more expensive but has better dimensional stability across the envisioned range of temperature. But keep looking for that tightly rollable, foldable, even stretchable product. That is where the market really lies.
 
 
 
These are the major conferences/ exhibitions/ tours on the subject. Do not settle for less.

Authored By:

Chairman

Posted on: June 25, 2007

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