New report highlights trends in flexible electronics

07 January 2009

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Flexible electronics is set to bring about changes in the design and conceptualisation of electronics devices in the consumer, medical and military sectors. The emerging field has demonstrated great implications in terms of cost reductions owing to printed manufacturing techniques being developed for volume production.

New analysis from Frost & Sullivan, Emerging Trends in Flexible Electronics, finds that flexible electronics have seen drastic evolution since the discovery of organic conductive polymers. There still remains a long way to go before sweeping changes impact our day-to-day lives. However, benefits such as light weight, ruggedness, low costs, possible transparency of electronics as well as an ease of integration promise to open the doors for new applications in areas where conventional electronics have not been effective.

Technical Insights Research Analyst Sharmishta S notes: "While organic semiconductors used in flexible electronics are not a rival to conventional silicon, they offer new avenues of applications that rigid circuits and electronics have not been able to penetrate, including flexible displays for packaging or defence applications, flexible sensors for portable diagnostics and flexible RFID tags for brand protection of products."

The market is witnessing the formation of strategic partnerships between material suppliers, original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), and research and development institutes to accelerate technology development and build collaborative value chains. However, product commercialisation and time to market would depend largely on leveraging the manufacturing strength of Asia.

Collaboration in research has enabled the pooling of resources of companies and research institutes to produce new materials, enhance the performance levels of organic light emitting diodes (OLEDs) and facilitate the acquisition and dissemination of knowledge. The flexible electronics research environment has seen active funding initiatives from governments, defence establishments, investment banks and large business organisations.

Manufacturing challenges

Sharmishta explains: "While there is a continued focus on the development of flexible devices, initiatives have been made to address manufacturing issues within projects funded by the European Commission, for example, as well as initiatives led by the United States Display Consortium in North America. As the field is nascent, there are still requirements to be satisfied in terms of materials performance, lifetimes, testing and validation to stand the rigours of continuous use in applications."

Applications for flexible electronics range from portable military devices to car interiors, where electronics can be integrated into the contours of the application. However, the awareness of the potential of this technology remains low in many segments of the market. Several research programmes have been initiated to tackle the challenges in manufacturing, encapsulation and performance of organic semiconductors, which constitute the very basics of flexible electronics.

Promising manufacturing techniques for different applications include inkjet printing, vacuum deposition as well as imprint lithography for different applications, depending on the resolution, cost and throughput requirements. Proactive printing companies are widening their horizons and expanding their business to incorporate printing electronics on flexible substrates. Overall, the prospects for the flexible electronics market look optimistic and the field is open to advancement.

The analysis Emerging Trends in Flexible Electronics, a part of the Technical Insights subscription, covers current trends and achievements in research and development in the flexible electronics field including developments in radio frequency identification (RFID), flexible displays, batteries and manufacturing techniques such as roll-to-roll processing for the production of flexible devices. Furthermore, this research service includes detailed technology analysis and industry trends evaluated following extensive interviews with market participants.

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