Clusters are Helping to Drive Growth in PE

In complex new fields, it is virtually impossible for a single company to have all of the expertise necessary to develop its own complete systems. Collaborating on projects with partners throughout the supply chain is essential.

The printed and flexible electronics field is no exception to this. There is a lot of research being conducted in this area, and these projects encompass topics ranging from displays and sensors to solar cells, materials and much more. In order to more efficiently coordinate research and development, a large number of organizations have sprung up. These consortiums have brought together partners from industry, universities and research organizations.

Here are just five of these organizations:

MUJULIMA: Coordinated by TNO/Holst Centre, this European Union-funded program is studying organic photovoltaics (OPV), with the goal of improving performance and lifetimes as well as bringing lab results to the production level using inkjet printing. Among the partners is DisaSolar, which produces OPV modules through digital printing processes.

“The current status of OPV is around 10-12% efficiency on lab scale with a lifetime varying between one to five years depending on the encapsulation,” said Jan Gilot of TNO, MUJULIMA’s project coordinator. “There are three parameters that influence the success of OPV: efficiency, cost and lifetime determined by the application. In MUJULIMA, we want to bring at least two of these parameters to a higher level while keeping a control over the third.”

InnovationLab GmbH: iL A geographic cluster in the Rhine-Neckar region headquartered in Heidelberg and focused on organic electronics, InnovationLab is responsible for managing the cluster Forum Organic Electronics (FOE). The German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) provided the initial €40 million in funding from 2008-2013. Research operations at InnovationLab started in 2011 with a €15 million high-tech lab for printed and organic electronics. An additional €40 million was contributed by the industrial partners of the cluster; in May 2014, Merck and BASF announced that they had acquired a 70% stake in InnovationLab. Heidelberg Printing Presses and cynora GmbH are among the other corporate partners.

“This targeted networking has led to the formation of a leading-edge cluster for organic electronics, whose depiction of the entire value chain gives it a selling point which is unique in the world,” said Nina Hoyler of InnovationLab GmbH.

Solliance: Solliance is another geographic cluster, this time in the ELAT-region (Eindhoven-Leuven-Aachen triangle). Led by TNO, TU/e, Holst Centre, ECN, imec and Forschungszentrum Julich, its target area is thin film photovoltaic (PV) technologies, including OPV, copper indium gallium selenide (CIGS) and thin film silicon.

Organic Electronics Saxony: Founded in 2008 under the umbrella of Invest in Saxony, this is Europe’s largest cluster of organic and flexible electronics, with almost 40 commercial enterprises and 20 research facilities. Partners include the Fraunhofer network of universities; industrial leaders such as Novaled and Plastic Logic (OLED) and Heliatek (OPV).

COLAE (Commercialising Organic and Large Area Electronics): A European FP7 project established in 2011, as the name implies, the focus is on organic and large area electronics (OLAE). COLAE is a collaboration between 17 of the largest R&D centers in Europe. These include VTT/PrintoCent, The Centre for Process Innovation (CPI), Fraunhofer EMFT, Holst Centre, acreo, CETEMMSA, Centi and CSEM.

“We are bringing together the community to act as one in order to gain traction from end user markets,” Matthew Herbert, CPI marketing manager, said. “We have been working extensively with the product design community to educate and raise awareness of OLAE.”

There are many other organizations in the field of printed electronics, and these will most likely play a role in the growth of flexible and printed electronics in the coming years.