Dedicated electronics becomes optimal again
Cloning today's electronics and its applications with flexible printed electronics is leading to some useful applications but often with fragile and few advantages over what went before. Totally new concepts are possible and often offer the bigger and more secure rewards but there is also a possibility to "turn the clock back" and make dedicated solutions economical once again. Take microprocessors. 50 years ago we had very powerful computers. Despite the limits of technology at that time, they were able to be powerful because they were dedicated to one task such as codebreaking. The world then moved to programmable, universally useful computers and microprocessors. These will be produced in disposable, printed form in due course but that is probably ten years or more away. However, if we look to the strengths of printed transistor circuits we see that changes in design and production can be extremely rapid and economic. In other words we shall be able to produce dedicated microcontrollers with different hard-wired logic for every application. That will probably create a larger market than that for printed microprocessors because they may remain more expensive than dedicated processors in printed form.
We see a similar thing with displays. There is a presumption in most of the industry that high performance printed, light emitting active matrix displays are the holy grail. Take cost out of the cathode ray tube, the plasma panel and the colour LCD and the result is happiness. However, the rapid success of start up companies such as elumin8 and the interest in Commotion Printed Display Solutions shows that there is vast potential for dedicated and passive matrix displays. These are helping to create totally new design concepts as well as facing enormous replacement business such as upgrading gift cards, posters and billboards in highly attractive ways. The universally programmable display may not be the biggest opportunity after all. With some flexible displays, as with TFTCs, the low cost and rapidity of design and production changes is of great significance.