2013FLEX Showcases Smart Solutions

The field flexible and printed electronics is witnessing numerous new advancements on a regular basis, as companies and universities alike are coming up with potential uses and applications.

The 2013 Flexible and Printed Electronics Conference and Exhibition (2013FLEX), which was held Jan. 29-Feb. 1 at the Phoenix Convention Center, showcased many of these new technologies. Now in its 12th year, the Flex Conference is organized by FlexTech Alliance, which is exclusively devoted to fostering the growth, profitability and success of the electronic display and flexible, printed electronics supply chain.

This year’s conference moved to the Phoenix, AZ Convention Center to accommodate its continuous growth, and FlexTech Alliance’s leaders said the results were excellent.

“2013FLEX, held in downtown Phoenix for the first time, was an outstanding industry event,” said Michael Ciesinski, FlexTech Alliance’s CEO. “The quality of the presentations, the exhibits and networking opportunities were first rate. Attendance exceeded last year's conference and exhibition, a positive sign given the uneven economic climate worldwide.”

“The conference was great, and we are seeing a lot of new people,” said Denise Rael, communications manager for FlexTech Alliance. “Our technical program is a big draw, and we are also showing some of the latest product developments here.”

Ciesinski got the conference started with his welcoming talk, noting that “We all feel this market is ripe for explosive growth.”

Dr. David Edwards, retired chief technology officer for Avery Dennison, then spoke about the company’s development of its Metria wearable sensors in his talk, “Innovation Beyond the Core,” and how that decision illustrated the importance of moving beyond core products into new markets.

“Innovation beyond the core is essential as your core market will eventually run out of steam,” Dr. Edwards said. “It is crucial to figure out a place to play and stay wedded to it, preferably a space with an enormous amount of tailwind, and you must be able to adapt and even kill the project if needed. With Metria, we have great adhesive and RFID technology and roll-to-roll processing experience.”

Dr. Monica K. Davis of EMD Chemicals then discussed “Organic Photovoltaic and Organic Sensor Materials at EMD Chemicals - Making the Future Flexible.” Dr. Davis noted EMD’s recent product developments, as well as its decision to focus on the organic photovoltaic (OPV) and organic light emitting diode (OLED) marketplaces.

“We focus on our strengths and expertise in materials and formulations,” Dr. David noted. “EMD has a long-term commitment to OPV, and we want to make OLED and OPV a commercial reality.”

Dr. Bill MacDonald of DuPont Teijin Films then spoke on “Polyester Film Substrates for the Flexible Electronics Industry - An Overview and Where Next.”

“Polyester films are being used in a much broader range of applications than was originally envisioned,” Dr. McDonald noted. “The Holy Grail is water white, low CTE, low shrinkage and high temperature stability. It’s a big ask. We’d need new polymer materials that are commercially scaled up, but this points to the need to use existing materials.”

OLEDs were the focus of the next series of talks, beginning withTeruo (Ted) Tohma. During his presentation on “The Advantages and Challenges of OLED - From Launching the First OLED to Today,” Tohma showed the development of OLEDs, beginning with T.W. Tang and S.A. Van Slyke’s groundbreaking work at Eastman Kodak in 1987. Tohma noted that Pioneeroffered the world-first introduction of OLED, a green monochrome passive dot matrix display, in 1997, among other firsts.

“There needs to be strong collaboration between R&D and manufacturing,” Tohma said. “Our first customer was in-house.”

Tohma said that OLED needs to be flexible.

“The final goal is that it should be flexible, and only OLED can be ideal for a flexible display,” Tohma said. “We need to make a revolution in production from vacuum processing to roll-to-roll printing, and it must be cost effective.”

Dr. Takuya Komoda of Panasonic followed with his talk on “High Quality White OLED for Lighting Application,” and the drivers for OLED lighting.

“Reduction of energy consumption in lighting is generating much interest,” Dr. Dr. Komoda said. “All phosphorescent white OLED lighting has great potential.”

Dr. Mike Hack, Universal Display, then discussed “Opportunities for Flexible OLEDs.”

“Flexible products are game changers,” Dr. Hack observed. “OLEDs are really taking off in displays - Samsung uses OLEDs in cell phones - and lighting needs to be nudged along. OLEDs have lower power usage, superior aesthetics and are more cost effective, as there is no backlight or glass substrate.” Dr. Hack was followed by Keith Cook of Philips Lighting, who discussed the efforts of the Next Generation Lighting Industry Alliance.

Cutting-Edge Innovative Technology and Products was the focus of the next session, beginning with Dr. Janos Veres of Palo Alto Research Center (PARC), who offered with insights on “Creating the Future of Printed Electronics,” including PARC’s collaboration with Thin Film Electronics (ThinFilm).

“Seeing how your ideas work in real-life is absolutely essential,” Dr. Veres said. “Printed electronics is a tremendous opportunity to innovate, and working with ThinFilm is very exciting.”

Dr. Davor Sutija, ThinFilm Electronics ASA, followed Dr. Veres with a talk on “Market Opportunities for Printed Integrated Systems,” a look at how printed electronics can make the Internet of Things come to life.

“If every item is to be smart, you will need to add smartness to trillions of items,” Dr. Sutija said. “We have created a platform for printable integrated systems. This is a disruptive technology with unique cost/functionality trade-offs, as it offers higher system performance than color changing inks at a significantly lower cost than silicon electronics. By 2016, we expect to be seeing two billion to two and a half billion units.”

“Reshaping Electronics for the Human Body,” presented by Dr. Kevin Dowling of MC10, looked at the wearable sensors that MC10 is bringing to market with companies such as Nike.

“We want to make electronics conform to people,” Dr. Dowling said. “We have three main ideas: Thinning silicon to make it flexible and embedding it in polymer films, microtransferring it and creating stretchable interconnects. We are freeing electronics from the tyranny of the wafer.” David Barnes of BizWitz LLC closed this session with “Flexible Choices.”

The final session of the first day covered The Future – Printing, Nano and Industrialization. The first speaker, Kendra Short of Jet Propulsion Laboratory, showcased “Printable Spacecraft: NASA Applications for Flexible Electronics.”

These spacecraft consist ofinkjet-printed 2D sheets that contain a lot of functional systems of a typical spacecraft, printed on a common substrate. These sensors could measure such readings as chemical/bio sensing, temperature, wind speed, pressure/force, electromagnetic, radiation, acceleration/vibration, pH/salinity, photonics, acoustics, interferometry and strain.

“Printed electronics offers many advantages to NASA,” Short said. “What if you could have 100,000 sheets of paper rather than 16 stations on Mars? It would reduce cost and manufacturing complexity.”

Short was followed by Dr. Jeff Stuart ofLockheed Martin, who talked on “NanoBio Manufacturing of Flex Devices for Aerospace.” Dr. S. V. Sreenivasan, University of Texas at Austin, followed with “Inkjet Based Roll to Roll Nanoimprint Process and Applications,” and Andy Hannah of Plextronics and OE-A covered “Building a Global Network for the Printed Electronics Industry.”

Indro Mukerjee of Plastic Logic concluded the first day with his talk on “Transforming a Science Project into Industrial Reality.”

“I think the revolution is happening now,” Mukerjee noted. “Commercial yields have been achieved, and our capacity is 1.8 million units a year. We are going for it, and we will do our best.”

The conference broke into two concurrent tracks on Jan. 31 and Feb. 1. Jan. 31 included sessions on Printing, OPV and Lighting, Novel Display Technology, Circuits & System Applications, Biometric & Medical Sensors, Printing 2, Barriers and Materials.Feb. 1 featured talks on Sensors, Oxide TFTs, Transparent Conductors, OTFT & Novel Devices, Flexible Glass and Manufacturing Processes. These talks covered the range of applications and manufacturing, and gives a clear indication of where flexible and printed electronics is heading.

“One veteran attendee commented to me that ‘the conference has migrated from an emphasis on displays and the related ecosystem to using printed electronics to provide systems with ‘smarts’ to achieve smart packaging and smart sensor systems,” Ciesinski concluded. “I emphatically agree, and look forward to a continued evolution of the Flex Conference.”