Banking on printed electronics Prototypes of light-emitting or energy-converting, intelligent and flexible plastic electronics will be shown at the K2010. The conversion of light into energy and electrical conductivity are part of the future for the industry that is undergoing massive change, with electronics providing the focus for innovation. Flexible plastics-based solar cells, printed batteries, smart materials or bio-analysis on a plastic chip will be products much in demand in the near future. Organic and printed electronics The global market for printed electronics is set to grow to US$100 billion by 2020 and reach US$250 billion in another five years, according to British market research company IDTechEx. It will be driven by organic photovoltaics, OLED (organic light emitting diode) displays and lighting and printed transistors and data memories. Organic and printed electronics have the backing of the plastics industry. As a basis for electronics, polymers are becoming the material of the future. Battery chargers, sunshades and carrier bags will convert light into energy and reduce the dependence on existing power grids. The need for taking the charger for the mobile or looking for a socket in the train compartment will then be a thing of the past.
Investments pouring in This industry will transform plastics into a high-tech material on which many industries are pinning their hopes. Investment, which amounted to EUR2.2 billion last year, will double by 2015. It is estimated that globally more than 2,000 firms are active in the various branches of organic and printed electronics, with Germany, Japan and South Korea as the main players. Recently, Belgian chemical firm Solvay invested US$4 million in US-based Polyera, a materials developer for the printed electronics market that develops and commercialises organic semiconductors and dielectrics for organic thin-film transistors (OTFT) and organic photovoltaics (OPV), enabling applications such as flexible display backplanes, printed RFID tags and printed solar panels. Solvay has also invested in another US company, Plextronics, and in Norway’s Thin Film Electronics. Alternative source of technology Applications range from lit-up packaging and revolutionary forms of lighting to universal power supply. Codes that cannot be duplicated by counterfeiters will guarantee that products are genuine. Labels will sound the alarm when a use by date is reached. Electronic components will supply their own power. Experts predict a high level of demand for alternative lighting technologies. Markets are currently looking for diffuse lighting, flat light sources that can be integrated with wide surfaces. The plastic layer has not been durable enough to date. Oxygen and moisture attack the material. But the solution lies in a flexible OLED encapsulated in a thin layer of material, manufactured in a vacuum roll-to-roll coating plant. For instance, for the photovoltaic layer, the crucial part of the thin sandwich composite, materials supplier Bayer MaterialScience (BMS) is using inorganic quantum dots (Q-dots). In this way, photovoltaic cells could be applied to films in a simple printing process, resulting in a costeffective solution for mobile electronic devices. And now, light-emitting wallpapers and canopies as well as interactive advertising posters and street maps are all within reach. The first products are ready for the market and have gone into mass production. In the field of medical technology, packaging for medicines are being tried out that will record whether patients are taking their medicine. Billions of singleuse glucose test strips are already produced every year.
This printed polymer electronics technology is seen as a next-generation technology for delivering cost-effective production of highly integrated, complex moulded electronic components
“What we have here is a completely new process for mass producing electronics,” explains Dr Klaus Hecker, Managing Director of the Frankfurt-based Organic Electronics Association (OE-A), a working group within the German Engineering Federation. “The new components for electronic appliances are flexible, thin and light, but at the same time they are strong and inexpensive,” explains the expert in organic and printed electronics. The electronics can be produced on virtually endless rolls of plastic substrate – with no silicone or copper – and the functional parts directly integrated with numerous products. 9
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PLASTICS-BASED ELECTRONICS When it comes to novel thin-layer solar cells, BMS says its Makrofol polycarbonate encapsulation films can make it possible to produce flexible photovoltaic modules. A current target is to produce flexible, lightweight modules using reel-to-reel processing and the German company is working with partners to improve the product’s barrier properties against oxygen and water, in order to protect the active layer and to replace glass.
New technologies taking off Germany-based BMS has developed technology for customers who print PC films with electronic functions and process these into 3D electronic components using the film insert moulding (FIM) process. Films offer various benefits in printed electronics. They can be printed in a limited space with several electronic functions such as wiring diagrams, actuators, sensors and antennae, which previously had to be applied as separate components. Integrating these functions therefore reduces the number of parts required and the amount of logistical and assembly work. This results in compact, ready-to-install all-in-one electronic modules that require a minimum of space, thus reflecting the trend towards miniaturisation in electronics. BMS is promoting its hard coat, thermoformable Makrofol HF film, which due to its formability enables narrow radii and high depths of draw. The scratchresistant coating is only pre-cured and is not completely cured with standard UV lamps until forming is finished, hence producing a deep gloss finish that is chemical and abrasion-resistant. When working with 3D display elements, for example, it is ideal for increasingly popular piano finishes in combination with vanish-effect technologies. These make the contours of light symbols appear to vanish when these are switched off (black panel technology). Following the acquisition of Artificial Muscle, BMS says it also has the know-how to manufacture electrically activated, artificial muscles as actuators and sensors and integrate them with systems. For example, they make touchscreen fields tangible because they offer a tactile response when the display is touched and are largely wear-resistant, unlike conventional mechanical buttons. This creates considerable scope for use in areas such as manufacturing smart phones, games controllers and
touchpads and automotive engineering. In conjunction with its partners, BMS has developed the prototype for a large, one-piece 3D central console that integrates features such as a capacitative and electrically activated switch as a central control element. As well as electronic elements, the light function can also be integrated with appropriate 3D film components using the FIM process. Conventional technologies with LEDs can also be used as a light source and so too can large-area electroluminescent systems. In conjunction with Add-Vision, for example, BMS is currently working on printing flexible OLEDs onto PC films. A bright future is forecast for these P-OLEDs in areas producing displays, for instance.
An example of the use of Makrofol comes from Albrecht Jung that uses the TP 278 grade for the display of its new KNX room control system
A challenging market for OLED displays OLED displays are widely used in mobile phones and OLED televisions also look promising. OLEDs can be used to make screens that set new standards in picture quality, power consumption and space requirement. Introduced three years ago, the Sony OLED television is only 3 mm thick, for example. Though it has stopped producing and selling this model in Japan due to sluggish demand, it is still selling this next generation flat television in overseas markets. Sony said it was still technologically difficult to make large OLED panels and to produce them cheaply, limiting their potential as a mass market product. Since the display’s debut, few other OLED televisions have made it to the commercial market in any size due to the cost factor. It is hoped that the technology does not fade away but generates enough interest for it to have a staying power. This is because printed electronics can also help in achieving ambitious climate targets for countries, due to the energy savings.U
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IMA features issue October 2010