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Plastic electronics at UKDL

Over the coming 15 years, the number of electronic goods made possible by plastic electronics will revolutionise everyday life.

Plastic electronic goods are slimmer, lighter, more efficient, more robust, easier to manufacture and cheaper than their rigid silicon counterparts. Additive printing processes such as ink-jet or gravure can be utilised to deposit a sequence of metal and organic layers. Additive printing techniques allow electronic products to be manufactured.

  • Using fewer processing steps;
  • On flexible plastic substrates;
  • Using less material;
  • Producing less waste;
  • More quickly;
  • In smaller economic batch sizes;
  • With lower capital investment.

The global market for plastic electronics are for $3billion in 2009 with predictions of $30billion in 2015. In most applications, plastic electronics will not replace silicon but will allow electronics to be used in applications which could not exist with current electronic materials and processing.

Reel to reel printing of plastic electronics


Displays on flexible substrates opens up a whole host of new markets ranging from simple iconic displays for illustrating functions such as temperature through to hi-resolution colour devices for HD digital video viewing. OLED lighting on plastic has the potential to revolutionise the way in which lighting is designed and used.


Inkjet printed circuits and aerials

The basis of any electronic circuit is electrical power. Plastic electronics offers the opportunity for the generation and storage of electrical power through photovoltaic and lightweight printed batteries which offer robustness, flexibility, weight, ease of manufacture and cost reductions compared to their rigid counterparts. This opens up possibilities for disposable electronics and robust devices which can operate ?off grid?, such as solar-powered laptops.


Radio Frequency Identification technology will be a $200 million market by 2010, allowing products to be tagged with a radio aerial and chip such that they can be interrogated at a distance. This offers significant advantages for logistics through the supply chain from the producer to the end user. Printing the aerial using conductive inks is now becoming common practice and demonstrators of printed chips are in final development.


Plastic electronics offers the possibility of manufacturing sensors which are low cost, lightweight, flexible and even disposable. Physical characteristics such as strain, load and acceleration can be manufactured. In medicine, automatic objective measurement of patient health using cheap disposable sensors in the home can be realised.


Smart packaging covers a variety of sensors and actuators which add some electronic functionality to consumer goods packaging. For example, predicting product shelf life is problematic as it depends on state of the material placed into the package and the storage conditions; inaccuracies lead to waste/unfit food. Sensors are being developed which will monitor gas composition within packaging, allowing an accurate measurement of product condition. With high-value-added products, smart packaging allows genuine product security. In pharmaceuticals, authentication of the drug source and patient dosage is crucial to maintaining patient health and well being. Drugs placed in intelligent blister packs will monitor dosage.

Flexible oled

In addition to those applications mentioned, other consumer devices can be manufactured using plastic electronics, for example interactive gaming cards, illuminated and wireless connected clothing. One of the most exciting prospects of plastic electronics is that designers have freedom and many of the applications and devices of the future have yet to be imagined.

The UK is at the forefront of this technology with companies in all areas of the supply chain from suppliers of basic organic chemicals and printing press manufacturers through to producers of flexible displays and sensors. The UK?s strength in innovative design is already producing electronic goods which have broken the shackles of conventional electronics. UKDL has been co-ordinating UK industry for many years and has been instrumental in commercialising the technology.

Eifion Jewell
UK Displays and Lighting
Bletchley Science and Innovation Park
Sherwood Rd
Milton Keynes

Added the 26 August 2009 in category Innovation UK Vol5-1

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