Posted: July 28, 2010

Plastics-based electronics

(Nanowerk News) Light-emitting or energy-converting, intelligent and flexible: customers are eagerly awaiting the products of the future, prototypes of which will be on show during K 2010, the world's leading plastics and rubber trade fair, to be held in Düsseldorf from 27 October to 3 November.
The conversion of light into energy and electrical conductivity are part of the future for a plastics industry that is undergoing massive change with electronics providing the focus for innovation. Flexible plastics-based solar cells, printed batteries, smart materials or bioanalysis on a plastic chip will be products much in demand in the near future.
"Plastics-based electronics offers new opportunities for technological advances with intelligent processes and materials," explains Dr. Klaus Hecker, Managing Director of the Frankfurt-based Organic Electronics Association (OE-A). An international working group within the German Engineering Federation (VDMA), the OE-A brings together the activities of the entire value chain of organic and printed electronics. The OE-A's latest roadmap says that, having made great strides in research and development, more and more branches of this young industry are going into mass production.
Organic and printed electronics and VDMA
"A young technology needs a strong association to represent its interests," says Andrew Hannah, Vice-Chairman of the OE-A and CEO of Plextronics, USA, adding that for five years now, this highly dynamic network of international companies and research institutes has provided 'international visibility', which is of 'inestimable value' for the technology and the firms that produce it.
Organic and printed electronics and the plastics industry
Organic and printed electronics has the backing of the plastics industry. "The highly promising combination of plastics and electronics, unimaginable half a century ago, has brought fresh impetus and is opening up new markets," explains Thorsten Kühmann, Managing Director of the VDMA Plastics and Rubber Machinery Association. There is no doubt that polymer electronics can help the EU achieve its ambitious climate targets.
Market for polymer electronics
Polymer electronics transforms plastic into a high-tech material on which many industries are pinning their hopes. According to the findings of market research organisations turnover is set to rise from the present 1.5 billion euro to nearly 250 billion in the next 20 years, driven by organic photovoltaics, OLED (organic light emitting diode) displays and lighting and printed transistors and data memories.
Investment, which amounted to 2.2 billion euro last year, will double by 2015. New factories are springing up, and it is estimated that globally more than 2,000 firms are active in the various branches of organic and printed electronics, with Germany and Europe as major players.
A material with a future
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 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.
"What we have here is a completely new process for mass producing electronics," explains Dr. Hecker. "The new components for electronic appliances are flexible, thin and light, but at the same time they are strong and inexpensive," underlines the expert in organic and printed electronics. The electronics can be produced on virtually endless rolls of plastic substrate – with no silicon or copper – and the functional parts directly integrated into numerous products.
Products with a future
Applications range from light-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 into 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. Light-emitting wallpapers and canopies as well as interactive advertising posters and street maps are now within reach.
The first products are ready for the market and have gone into mass production. In the field of medical technology, packagings for medicines are being tried out that will record whether patients are taking their medicine. Billions of single-use glucose test strips are already produced every year. OLED displays are widely used in mobile phones. In the long term, OLED televisions also look very promising. OLEDs can be used to make screens that set new standards in picture quality, power consumption and space requirement. The Sony television set is only three millimetres thick, for example.
"Polymer electronics will become increasingly common in the next five years," says Dr. Hecker with conviction. And Thorsten Kühmann adds: "Organic and printed electronics is finding new markets and new applications."
Source: VDMA German Engineering Federation