Printed and flexible electronics represent a nascent and fast-growing industry, enabled by new carbon-based materials. These new organic materials - semiconductors, dielectrics, etc. - function very similarly to traditional inorganic materials with a major difference in that they are solution-processable: can be dissolved into a solution or an "ink".
Organic Materials vs Inorganic Materials
The unique solution-processable property allows us to use organic materials differently from inorganic materials in two ways:
Thus, the solution-processability of novel semiconductors enables a dramatic shift in the paradigm of electronics manufacturing. For more information on the underlying technology, please see the Technology section of our site.
While the manufacturing processes and form factors enabled by printed semiconductors are novel, the fundamental function of these materials are similar to that of traditional semiconductors. This allows for the development of basic devices such as transistors, light emitters, light harvesters, and sensors with architectures similar to that of existing electronics. For information on the building-block devices, please see the section on basic devices.
The possibility of manufacturing semiconductor devices with a low-cost and high-throughput process on flexible substrates opens up a wide expanse of new applications that were not practical with traditional electronics. Applications like item-level radio frequency identification tags, disposable diagnostic devices, rollable and low-cost solar cells, flexible displays and other electronics applications represent a multi-billion-dollar market for printed electronics in the future. For more information, see our section on end-user applications.
Moreover, these technologies are already beginning early commercialization. Displays based on organic light-emitting diodes (OLEDs) are already on the market, and while in most cases they are not yet printed, they demonstrate the viability of organic semiconductors in commercial applications. For example, find out Sony's OLED TV. Furthermore, flexible displays based on solution-processed organic transistors are slated to hit the market soon.
Within the next 15 years, printed and flexible electronics or organic and large area electronics (OLAE) are forecasted to create an entirely new industry by capitalizing on the unique properties of organic materials. While commercialization of organic materials has begun with OLED displays, there is a growing list of novel applications previously impractical due to the limitations of traditional materials. There is also a long list of traditional devices made with the organic materials that will offer huge cost advantages over lithographically fabricated devices using traditional materials.
However, the growth of this industry is currently hampered by the performance of existing organic materials. Many existing materials fall short of the performance levels needed for commercial use. With a number of fabrication techniques (e.g. inkjet, gravure, etc.) already being able to deposit organic materials with high throughput, the new generation of robust and high-performance materials would enable rapid industry growth. With these new materials, it is forecasted that the industry will grow to $300B by 2025. For more information, visit www.idtechex.com.