Flexible Functional Materials - Applications and Features of Plastic Electronics

Flexible functional materials, such as plastic electronics, have inherent properties that classical silicon semiconductor technologies can never offer. Their flexible form means that they can be used to build displays and panels that can be rolled-up or laminated directly onto surfaces using low cost production facilities. Silicon microchips, on the other hand, are rigid and relatively fragile and so require major investments before production becomes viable.


The applications for this technology are limitless - real-time interactive newspapers that can be rolled up like a sheet of paper, surfaces and packaging that respond interactively to consumers, smart clothes with embedded human health and environmental monitors, or ultra low-cost radio frequency identification tags, are just a few examples.

Flexible functional materials will form the basis of the next technology revolution for a new generation of consumer, as well as business products with a lengthy time-to-market. They will evolve a sector estimated by analysts to grow rapidly over the next five years and represent an important economic development opportunity for the region. This is why CPI has led the way in bringing the Plastic Electronics Technology Centre (PETeC) to the North East of England, focusing initially on plastic electronics.

Features of Plastic Electronics

Plastic electronics offer valuable features that can be commercially exploited to create ambient intelligent environments, enhancing the quality of everyday life and also improving health and well-being.

These features include:

  • lightweight, flexible, soft and can be shaped
  • emit light and act as semiconductors
  • can be easily structured and integrated into objects
  • nano/micro surface structures and electronic circuits can be printed directly onto the surface
  • easier, quicker and cheaper to fabricate
  • require less capital intensive manufacturing facilities
  • very low set-up costs, requiring investment in the order of a few million pounds, compared to the billions required for a semiconductor facility
  • less stringent constraints on manufacturing environments, compared to conventional semiconductor plants

These features position plastic electronics as a highly disruptive technology that also offer market opportunities within the next five to ten years. They offer entrepreneurs and companies in the UK major opportunities for innovation and growth.

Consumer Products

Some of today's consumer products are already incorporating plastic electronics. For instance, displays made with arrays of plastic light emitting diodes (LEDs) are currently used in shavers, digital cameras, mobile phones, bright low energy consumption torches and handheld Personal Digital Assistants (PDA) devices. Polymer LEDs also use 50% less energy.

Future applications will include novel products such as real-time electronic newspapers, electronic tags, intelligent interactive packaging, handheld medical diagnostic devices, flexible e-paper for interactive e-books, reports and advertisements, electro-textiles for smart fashion and sportswear and energy in the form of fuel cells, solar cells and batteries.

This information has been sourced, reviewed and adapted from materials provided by CPI.

For more information on this source, please visit CPI.

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