Dr. Fulay, program director of Electronic, Photonic, and Magnetic Devices at NSF, said he would briefly review how NSF had been involved in supporting flexible electronics research. He said that flexible electronics itself was funded primarily through the Division of Electrical, Communications, and Cyber Systems, and that the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program had funded many of the companies working in the area. NSF also covered many areas of basic research of relevance to flexible electronics, as well as technology transfer and translational research.
As illustrations, he listed some “hybrid devices” supported by NSF that find application in key fields:
• Energy: organic photovoltaics, solid-state lighting, and batteries;
• Electronics: displays, e-paper, sensors, and actuators;
• Biomedical and health care: sensors, system on a foil;
• Communications: RFID; and
• Defense: various applications.
He also reported that NSF supports a wide variety of flexible hybrid electronics research, including the following:
• Organic and polymer electronics and optoelectronics: OLEDS, organic field-effect transistors (OFETs), solar cells, and sensors/actuators;
• Inorganic thin-film devices: transistors and circuits, light emission, PV, displays, and batteries;
• Hybrid devices: both organic and inorganic; and
• Hybrid circuits and systems: hybrid organic/inorganic complementary metal oxide semiconductors (CMOSs), etc.
So the central challenges for each of these areas of research were fabrication and manufacturing. The pressing issues in these areas include the need to achieve low cost, high throughput, and print compatibility.
In addition to hybrid devices, he said, NSF provides research support and opportunities, including programs that encourage university-industrial partnerships. Depending on definitions, he said, the foundation supported about 200 projects in flexible electronics, including work on transistors, OLEDs, zinc oxide, and flexibly printed electronics research. “Typically, these are small, single-investigator projects, though the NSF does support an Engineering Research Center in solid-state lighting and a lot of instrumentation through the Materials Research Initiative. The foundation also encourages strong industrial interaction, including a number of programs directed at SBIR/STTR programs and GOALI programs.”
In Europe, a Spirit of Sharing
From an international perspective, he said that he and a colleague had funded a study in May 2009 to assess the state of the art in flexible electronics, primarily in Europe. They visited leading laboratories in industrial, university, and other research settings to learn more about successful strategies. He had many discussions about how industry has to collaborate and work with universities, and vice versa. He said he saw some outstanding examples of this, especially in Europe, where barriers between academia and industry are very porous, with “professors going back and forth.” There are effective mechanisms for dealing with intellectual property (IP) issues, notably at the Fraunhofer institutes in Germany and IMEC in Belgium. He described dynamic interdisciplinary teams that had developed effective ways of working together.
Dr. Fulay cited strong research groups that had existed for many years, and close public-private partnerships working in precompetitive research. A key, he said, were mechanisms to promote sharing of specialized fabrication and prototyping facilities and multiorganization centers.
During his survey he had queried European scientists about perceived U.S. strengths in this field of research. Those scientists commented on the following:
• Strong research universities with well-regarded Ph.D. programs;
• A well-developed venture capital infrastructure more advanced than that of most countries;
• Practical knowledge about how to create startup companies;
• Ability to attract talent from everywhere; and
• Strong public support from organizations such as NSF, DoD (e.g., ARLFlex Display Center at Arizona State University), DoE, and others.
He summarized his talk in the form of suggestions from the panels of experts created during the survey. These suggests were offered in three groups, as follows:7
• Establish NSF-National Nanofabrication Infrastructure Network (NNIN)-like facilities dedicated to flexible hybrid electronics.
• Allow universities greater access to federal fabrication equipment and expertise.
• Provide incubation facilities for small companies.
• Replicate successful NSF models for microelectronics and nanotechnology.
• Establish a SEMATECH-like organization for hybrid flexible electronics to support precompetitive research involving multiple companies and universities.
• Nurture technologies until they are ripe for commercialization.
• Create support models linking government agencies and industry.
• Establish new funding streams that support research from multiple organizations.
• Create focused R&D centers that perform the full range of research, from fundamental to applied.
• Enhance funding mechanisms that would help groups of companies to develop high-risk technologies.8
Despite funding and time limitations, he said, his study “was an eye-opener. I would like to see this happen at a higher level in the U.S. We also need to have more agencies working together and try to leverage these partnerships the way they do in Europe. This has been an EU-level priority for about a decade, where they take a long-term view of the field.”
7See World Technology Evaluation Center website, where a free 25-Mb file containing the full report is available.
8Report is available at <http://www.wtec.org/flex/HybridFlexibleElectronics-final-July2010.pdf>.
Mr. Hannah, CEO of Plextronics and vice chair of the Organic Electronics Association, began with a description of his company, an eight-year-old spin-out from Carnegie Mellon University, based in Pittsburgh. Plextronics had 70 employees, about 22 of whom were Ph.D.s from around the world. The company’s objective was to develop polymer-based inks that were either semiconductive or conductive. They were sold for three primary applications: printed light, printed power, and printed circuitry.
He defined printed electronics as “organic electronics plus flexible electronics.” In the case of Plextronics, the company makes printable inks for customers to use on substrates. When the inks are printed, they become thin, functional films that can be used to create many next-generation electronic devices, such as thin displays, organic solar films, or potentially RFID tags. One advantage is low cost, he said, and another is flexibility. Using such inks, customers are able to place the electronics on any surface they can print them—one of the visions of the industry.
In visualizing the developing industry of printable electronics, he suggested, it was helpful to “think from a Lego perspective.” The industry begins with a set of basic building blocks that are assembled to produce more complex and useful integrated products. In the case of printable electronics, the building blocks include lights in the form of OLEDs or small area flat-panel displays for white-light panels of cell phones and other existing products; organic photovoltaics (OPV); building-integrated photovoltaics, for which early products are already on the market; and OFETs, for which demonstrator products include RFID tags for baggage handling by airlines.
The integration stage begins when innovators place these building blocks on any surface of a device and then imagine the different applications. In the early stages of the industry, the focus was restricted to achieving low cost or performing some function better than an existing technology at a minimal level. For the industry to emerge, he said, it needs to break out of this restricted thinking to realize the much greater potential applications. “It’s what can you do creatively with these technologies when you combine them.”
Power New Uses in Advertising
Mr. Hannah mentioned the example of advertising, which today uses primarily electrophoretic, electrochromic technology in which OPV powers electrophoretic displays under indoor lighting. But several marketing studies indicate the potential for much more powerful uses, he said. Customers who see a sign with a product will buy it 40 percent more often than if there were no sign. If the sign moves, they will buy the product 80 percent more often than if there were no sign. “So motion drives purchasing behavior,” he said. “It is only a matter of time before you walk into a retail establishment and see these things blinking. You can see that printable lighting represents the next generation of advertising, product packaging, or shelving labels.”
These new forms of lighting will need power, he continued, and they will not all be connected to the grid. He said that OPV was a good example of a new energy harvesting technology that will become more useful. The use of price tags will also change, he said, to connect them electronically with inventory control. “You’ll completely change the way you manage the inventory,” he said, “because you can then introduce dynamic pricing. For example, when supply goes down in a retail environment, the price should go up. In an integrated world when these things talk to each other, that becomes a reality. It is also an example of how business models can change.”
Today, he said, printable electronics represents a $2 billion market, with OLED lighting accounting for about half and other forms dividing the rest. At current rates of growth, the various components of the industry, including lighting, power, and circuitry, are projected to become a $60 billion industry by 2019. “That is a big number,” he said. “Is it possible? I have venture investors, so I have to answer that question quarterly, and will try to show you why I think that it is possible.”
The Technology is “Leaking Out of the Country”
Around the world, Mr. Hannah said, some 3,000 organizations are developing printed electronics, according to trade organizations. Of those, about 850 are in the United States, 875 in the European Union, and 650 in East Asia. So the customers are divided fairly evenly throughout the world. In terms of Plextronics customers, he finds that, of his 50 largest customers, about half are in Asia, a third in Europe, and only six in the United States. In addition, an analysis of patents shows that about 5,000 patents in organic electronics have been awarded in the United States, 4,000 in Europe, and 25,000 in Asia. “So where’s the activity? he asked. “In Asia.”
He also presented an analysis indicating that U.S.-based printable electronics companies are becoming scarce—even though “technology creation is a U.S. strength.” He reported that U.S. companies are being bought by non-U.S. firms, and non-U.S. venture capitalists are investing directly in U.S. firms. For example, E Ink was acquired by PVI (Taiwan), Kodak’s OLED business by
LG (Korea), Artificial Muscle by Bayer Material Science (Germany), and Dow’s Business Unit by CDT (United Kingdom). U.S. firms receiving foreign direct investment include Add-Vision from CDT, Alps Electric, and Toppan Forms (all from Japan); Polyera from Solvay (Belgium); Plextronics from Solvay (Belgium); and Konarka from Total (France) and Konica Minolta (Japan). “I’m in the venture community a lot,” he said, “and I see more activity from a foreign investment and acquisition perspective in this technology than I’ve seen in any other industry. This is another indicator that the technology is actually leaking out of this country.
Government Backing is a Strength Abroad and a Weakness in the United States
Continuing with his industry analysis, he discussed expenditures being made by governments. “Government backing is identified as a strength in Asia and Europe,” he said, “and a weakness in the U.S.” Using data from IDTechEx, a research and consulting service, he said that the U.S. government spent about $50 million in 2009 on printable electronics. In Europe, governments had spent a total of half a billion dollars, and have planned to spend an additional half a billion dollars, mostly on government-industry consortia. Much of the spending is clustered around specific topics, he said, such as “a strategy to develop a next-generation material for organic field-effect transistors so we can own the printed transistor market.” Another target may be organic light-emitting technology and how to integrate it with other technologies. “What comes out of this spending is consortia of companies,” he said. The requirement is real demonstrations of market pull, which is needed to support the development of the supply chain and the technology and materials for the specific application. Data on government spending in Asia, he continued, is very difficult to gather. For Taiwan, he said, the government intends to invest about $200 million in printed electronics from 2006 to 2013. He had no data for Korea, but spending there was estimated to be greater than for Taiwan. He had no data for Japan, but spending there was estimated to be greater than for Korea.
A Missed Opportunity?
Mr. Hannah said that the OEA, the largest global trade organization for printed electronics (PE), keeps a detailed roadmap to track how government spending is allocated. The roadmap is refreshed regularly, using nine specific applications, including such detail as material requirements, roadblocks, and which groups are working on various aspects of the technology. “This is a very powerful way to drive an industry,” he said.
He said that the current conclusions about the global PE market included the following points:
1. Asia leads the world in developing intellectual property.
2. Foreign purchases and/or investments in U.S. businesses are large and accelerating.
3. The United States is being outspent in PE by other governments.
In considering whether the United States has missed the opportunity for leadership in PE, he cited the LCD industry as a “cautionary tale.” Referring to a chart of LCD industry growth over time, he said that the first operating LCD had been developed in 1968—by an American company, RCA. This was followed by the first demonstration of amorphous silicon-based, active-matrix LCD in 1988. By six or seven years after that, LCDs had grown to a $10 billion industry, largely because of demand for laptop computers. The industry then went through “period of boom and bust,” with the introduction of cell phones driving the next generation of growth, followed by a pause, and now the popularity of LCD televisions driving the current phase of growth. “This is a cautionary tale,” he said. “In 1968 RCA developed the first operating LCD, but today 90 percent of the production of LCDs is in Asia.” In addition, he said, the LCD experiences also demonstrate how fast growth can begin—once it begins.
The Power of the High-Tech Science Park
“It’s not too late to do what the U.S. should be doing,” he said. What worked for advanced electronics industries, he said, was the high-tech science park. He noted that in Taiwan, a “whole corridor of high-tech science parks generate[s] critical technology for the OLED space.” As other models he cited the Holst Centre in the Netherlands, focused on a vertical approach to the OLED industry, as well as the Fraunhofer and ITRI facilities. In the United Kingdom, he said, PETEC was an interesting model—a design, development, and prototyping facility competing for position in the next generation of lighting technology.
“One policy strategy I find very interesting,” he said, “is the U.K. action to ban incandescent bulbs, which is going to drive the next generation of lighting technology there. So you don’t need just money to drive technology and policy change, you need to figure out what will drive behavior.”
As an industry, he said that he estimated an R&D need for $100 million a year. But the priority must be a focus on the end users: “The applications are what’s going to drive this business.” Second, applications will have little impact without advancing every step in manufacture, including testing, validating, and improving technology through prototypes and demonstrators.
“We have technologies in OLED and some OPV that could move into the market tomorrow,” he said. “There’s no doubt about it.” He said that one customer was ready to buy 100,000 units of his firm’s technology, an integration
of OPV and lighting technology. If it could be manufactured at a low enough price, he continued, the customer would take two million pieces immediately. However, his firm does not have any partners that can manufacture at such high volume, so he has to reach out to an Asian company and a German company for help. “So the applications are here,” he said. “We just need really smart people to develop the applications and the manufacturing infrastructure.”
The essential steps for building the industry in the United States, he said, are to focus on the applications, focus on the industry, and provide incentives to companies that will use U.S.-made components and build a U.S.-based supply chain. To establish state-of-the-art manufacturing, he said, the industry needs to share infrastructure, especially for the prototyping stage of development.
Mr. Hannah closed by advising firms to take a patient view of their investment in this new field. “It’s like trying to change the energy industry overnight,” he said. “This isn’t like developing software, where you can deliver products tomorrow.”
Dr. May said he would give an overview of the development of flexible electronics in Germany, and more broadly in Europe. He said that although the activities and projects of his Fraunhofer Institute for Photonic Microsystems was funded by several levels of government—the German federal government, the local government of the Free State of Saxony, and the European Commission—he considered himself “a user” who developed technologies, not a government scientist.
He said that across the European technology landscape, it was difficult to distinguish the various kinds of photonics by attribute—flexible, organic, printable, and so on—because they are all closely related. His institute in Dresden, he said, focused primarily on “small-molecule materials which had not been printable in the past.” In Europe, he said, this category is called organic or large-area electronics. The attributes of this technology category that are valued in Europe include robustness and flexibility, which allow for ubiquitous electronics, and its many “green” features, which include low carbon footprint, low materials consumption, low-impact manufacturing, and a substantial contribution to reducing energy consumption. He called the goal of low-cost manufacturing “a vision of the future,” which was needed to bring the promise
of low-cost substitutes for CMOS technology. Aspects of the technology that have been demonstrated to date are expensive, he said, so a primary goal is to achieve mass production and reduce costs.
The current space that includes organic and large-area electronics, he said, could be better understood by a glance backward into the past. Through the 1990s, he said, the industry emphasized inorganic semiconductors, including flat-panel displays. Beginning around 2005 this emphasis shifted to LCD panels and was moving to organic and printed electronics, with growth predicted to increase from 2015 to 2020.
In Europe, a Lack of Startups and Entrepreneurs
In Europe, Dr. May said, there was good strength in research and development on OLEDs, printed RFIDs, and transistors. He also said that the European market was “huge,” as the field of applications grew steadily. He cited a very good supply chain, especially in materials and production machinery. A notable lack, however, was a sufficient number of startups and entrepreneurs “with a clear view from research to manufacturing. Committed giants,” he said, “are needed. We have to bridge this gap from basic research to industry.” He said there was some risk that the European market would be taken over by foreign manufacturers, and external companies would benefit from the research and investment already being done in Europe.
A strategic research agenda of Photonics21, which is the European Technology Platform for Photonics and a synchronized strategic research agenda for the Organic Large Area Electronics (OLAE) were handed over to the European Commission during the Photonics21 Annual Meeting in Brussels in January 2010. He noted that the details of the agendas were public and could be downloaded. He said that a key recommendation of the merged groups was to develop more pilot production centers in technology clusters to help close the gap between R&D and products. In addition, it recommended more nurturing of the emergence of a European OLAE industry, partly through new approaches to creating lead markets.9
Other recommendations included the following:
• Establish an OLAE platform with the participation of all stakeholders.
• Coordinate existing OLAE networks and platforms.
• Coordinate EU and national member state R&D programs.
• Develop an approach for R&D cooperation in and beyond Europe.
• Establish standards early in the development of a new product.
• Establish new training schemes suited to the heterogeneous OLAE field.
• Increase the EU R&D funding budget for OLAE in response to huge market expectations.
• Establish new ways to access capital.
All such activities, he said, would have to be coordinated; this was even more important than funding levels.
Dr. May turned to the organic electronics situation in Germany, where most of the funding for the past 10 years had come from the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research. At first, the funding was targeted at various single projects, but later was given to coordinated actions, such as Polymer Electronics, the funding topic for 2001. To date, the ministry had furnished about €30 million in funding for organic electronics.
A new instrument for Germany was the Innovation Alliance, which had two major projects.
The first was the OLED Alliance, which received €120 million from the government, starting in 2006 and continuing with Phase 2 in 2009. By that model, industry commits to investing five times what it has received during the public funding phase if it is successful at commercialization. This alliance focused on OLEDs for lighting applications and organic photovoltaics. The three large private partners were the dominant German lighting companies, Osram and Philips, and Applied Materials. One emphasis of the Innovation Alliance was machinery, led by Applied Materials, and another focused on special organic lighting applications, such as lighting applications, displays, illumination, signage, and automobiles.
The second German instrument was the Innovation Alliance OPV (organic photovoltaics), which had received funding of €60 million, starting in 2008. Phase 2 was planned for 2011.This alliance used the same basic partnership model as the first alliance.
A third instrument organized by the government was the Cluster of Excellence approach for organic electronics. Candidates were invited to compete for nomination as Clusters of Excellence, and each cluster would consist of a consortium of universities, R&D organizations linked to universities, and companies. Applicants could represent any fields in engineering. A cluster in Dresden had been selected to work on silicon-based high-efficiency devices for
computing. A second cluster under installation in Heidelberg was designed to emphasize organic electronics, for which it receives €40 million in funding, matched by industry contributions, for the period 2008-2013.10
Dr. May then turned to the German research landscape, describing a general division of labor by which the universities typically perform fundamental research while industry performs applied research and development. Funding for internal and external investments in research by industry totaled €55.4 billion, while the budget for universities was €9.2 billion and for the state (Länder) institutes €0.9 billion. Other research organizations include the Max Planck Gesellschaft, which focuses on basic research; industrial research labs; and the special model of the Fraunhofer Gesellschaft, which tries to bridge the gap between basic research and the developmental work of industry. Typically, he said, Fraunhofer works closely with university, with institute directors holding academic chairs. The objective is to “use results of basic research and transfer such results to processes which are of use to industry. Therefore we are more or less working on industrial-related equipment.” He also gave a more formal description of the Fraunhofer objective as the effort to “undertake applied research of direct utility to private and public enterprise and of wide benefit to society.”
Fraunhofer is the biggest nonprofit R&D organization in the world, he said, with about 17,000 employees and annual budget of €1.4 billion. It consists of 59 institutes that are involved in virtually all fields of engineering; each institute is largely independent administratively. About 33 percent of operating funds come from government, while another third comes from publicly funded projects awarded to Fraunhofer on a competitive basis. The most important portion, he said, was the final third, which is generated from direct contracts with industry. “This number,” he said, “shows how attractive the work we are doing for industry is, which is to bridge the gap between basic research and the work done by industry.”
Dr. May has worked at the Fraunhofer Institute for Photonic Microsystems (IPMS) since 2003. Its permanent staff of 207 is led by directors Prof. Dr. Hubert Lakner and Prof. Dr. Karl Leo. The total budget is €23 million. Most of this budget is dedicated to research on MEMS devices for photonic applications and on organic electronics. Dr. May, along with Prof. Leo, is responsible for activities in organic electronics. It is one of several business units and includes lighting, photovoltaics OLED microdisplays, and sensors.
The Challenge of Cost
In 2008, IPMS created a “trademark” for its activities called the Center for Organic Materials and Electronic Devices (COMEDD) to market its own
work more effectively. Under COMEDD, three fab lines are being installed. The first is a pilot line to produce a Gen2 substrate for work in OLED lighting. The second will be for roll-to-roll manufacturing, “because we will only succeed if we decrease costs very, very much,” including the cost of materials. A third line would handle such technologies as signage, OLED on CMOS, lighting, and organic photovoltaics, which he called “technically very similar.” These pilot fabrication lines would be designed to produce “medium” volume for companies that want to be active in OLED lighting and signage, but which lack sufficient funding to invest in their own lines.
IPMS has a large number of research and industrial partners, he said, both in Dresden and in the surrounding area. This network consists of collaborators who support the “full value chain” of activities “from materials and modeling to organic technology to tools to products.” The network receives some “minor” funding from local government to help with management.
His own project, named R2FLEX, is developing roll-to-roll fabrication of small-molecule OLEDs for lighting applications and organic solar cells on flexible substrates. The project had introduced tools, he said, enabling the production technology for lighting, but the project still had to decrease material costs and process manufacturing costs. It was attempting to do this by using metal strips as cheap substrates and establishing a small-molecular roll-to-roll deposition process. This project, begun in 2007 and now in its second phase, had 11 partners from industry. Of total funding of €11 million, 58 percent came from the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research, the rest from industrial partners themselves. The project was now developing its first R&D production line to make the change from sheet-to-sheet to roll-to-roll processing. Its objective would be to provide monochrome OLEDs for lighting and signage, and to adapt this process for organic solar cells as well.11
Dr. May summarized by saying that organic electronics were strong in Europe at the research and developmental levels, but that this technology still faced challenges in moving to industrial products at industrial scale. A significant catalyst for this challenge was the German funding model, which included a blend of government assistance and industry matching.
11The system, he said, was a batch-type R&D vacuum coater for metal strips and polymer webs up to 300 mm with up to 14 linear organic evaporators. The substrate patterning and coating were done by wet processes with some lamination available under an inert atmosphere and the possibility of inert transfer between systems.
Dr. Chen brought to his presentation an unusual perspective, having spent 24 years with Eastman Kodak in the United States before moving back to his native Taiwan to become a leader in developing the flexible electronics industry. He was chief technical officer for the Kodak LCD Polarizer Films Business until 2005, when he took a position as vice president and general director of the new Display Technology Center in Taiwan. He also became chairman of the Taiwan Flat Panel Display Materials and Devices Association.
He began by saying it was a pleasure to be back in the United States, and to have the opportunity to discuss some lessons learned in Taiwan that might be helpful to those developing flexible electronics in the United States. “It may be some advantage to be able to see both sides of the fence,” he said.
Dr. Chen said that his perspective would be informed by his position at ITRI, the Industrial Technology Research Institute. ITRI is located in Hsinchu Science and Technology Industrial Park, the leading science park of Taiwan, where some 360 high-tech firms are located. ITRI was founded in 1973, and ITRI South was added in 2004. As of January 2010, it had 5,852 employees, 1,126 of whom had Ph.D.s. The institute had spawned 10,132 patents and 158 startup firms, and had opened flexible electronics pilot labs to develop the areas of printed circuits, paper-like speakers, touch sensors, printed sensors, flexible lightings, and flexible PV films. A major objective of Hsinchu Park, and of ITRI, is to facilitate technology transfer from the research labs to private firms.
Dr. Chen commented on the current high standing of Taiwan in the world of electronics. Taiwan is a tiny country, he noted, about the size of Rhode Island, with a population of about 24 million. Yet this small island, with a gross domestic product of about $418 billion, has made a “significant and remarkable achievement in the last 20 or 30 years” by assuming a global leadership role in manufacturing ICT-related products. Today, he said, one strategy is “basically trying to leverage Taiwan’s fast integration capability and to add value to ICT products by introducing this new feature called flexible.”
R&D Driven by the Federal Government
The R&D effort in Taiwan, he said, is primarily driven by the federal government through the Ministry of Economic Affairs (MOEA). ITRI, a not-for-profit organization, plays the leading role in identifying and developing promising new technologies, along with the major research universities. “At a certain point in technology development,” he said, “they invite industry to participate and invest, and then the government will come in with matching funds. That’s how the industry is gradually built up.”
In the area of flexible electronics, investments for 2010 were made as follows: $30 million from MOEA to research institutes, $2.5 million from MOEA to universities, $6.1 million from MOEA to industry, and $7.5 million invested by industry. This followed a decision made in 2006 that MOEA would begin to fund R&D projects in flexible displays, electronics, lighting, PV, and related material, process, and equipment development.
Dr. Chen then delineated the process by which a technology is actually supported and encouraged toward full commercialization by industry. The key, he said, was to get industry involved through joint development programs. As an illustration, he diagramed the key elements of support for the electrophoretic display industry, in which he was personally involved. “To build an industry,” he said, “you have to build a complete supply chain, all the way from the upstream R&D to the market. This has five elements: first materials, then equipment, then the panel maker, then a system, and finally the application or market. For the materials stage we recruited and invited four companies to join this joint development program. On the equipment side, we recruited five companies, and so on. This model for the electrophoretic supply chain is the same model we used for the LCD supply chain. This model has worked pretty well and it’s been proven year after year to be capable to gradually build up the complete supply chain.”
A Strategy Focused on Lifestyle
Dr. Chen said that an emphasis on flexible electronics had formally begun in Taiwan in 2006, the same year he returned to take a job with ITRI. In that same year, he moved into the new Flexible Display Center as director. In the five years since then, the Taiwanese government has invested close to $200 million in this technology. “So the government is really behind the whole incentive,” he said. “We believe this the first significant opportunity in flexible electronics. Basically, our strategy focuses on two main themes that have to do with lifestyle. One is the mobile lifestyle, and the other is green energy-saving display.”
He displayed some of the product areas in his technology portfolio, such as printed circuits, touch sensors, and printed sensors, but most importantly, he said, they all made use of the transition from rigid substrate to flexible substrate. This work was carried out in the well-equipped Flexible Electronics Pilot Lab. In addition to roll-to-roll (R2R) sputter technology, it also had an R2R exposure unit and equipment for many printed or flexible applications. “When you transition from rigid to flexible substrate,” he said, “it is very important how you enable it. Much of our effort and achievement have been realized through the so-called flex substrate material and how to build flexible devices on a rigid substrate. I negotiated to acquire this technology from
Eastman Kodak, and it’s a very elegant design, and truly roll-to-roll.” The process, called Bi-Chrome Cholesteric Display, uses a series of patterning, coating, layering, and cutting processes.
Reads and Writes Just Like Paper—“and It’s Rewriteable”
“As a result, the kind of flex display or device we generated reads and writes just like paper. Even more beautiful, it’s rewriteable. You basically erase the image and then it’s ready to be rewritten again. We’re trying to open up or explore different applications.” As an illustration, Dr. Chen showed this e-paper being used to copy or duplicate landscape paintings by Chinese artists from the Song Dynasty, in particular the famous “Pure and Remote View of Streams and Mountains” by Xia Gui. For this purpose, the e-paper was made very long and narrow, 300 cm by 24 cm. He also showed examples of e-signage and a “soft clock” using this technology.
One of the products generated by this center was the “paper-like speaker” that won the 2009 Wall Street Journal Technology Innovation Award, he said. Formally called the paper-thin fleXpeaker, it covers a large area, 2.2 meters by 50 centimeters, and consumes only a fifth to a tenth the power of a traditional speaker. It is designed for autos, ICT products, home theaters, and other uses.
He also elaborated on the process of using a new material, polyimide (PI), as a substrate. His center knew that when a plastic material is used as a substrate and glued to the glass substrate holder, it results in poor alignment, residual glue, and low tolerance for high temperatures. When PI is applied in solution to make a transparent film on the glass substrate, it gives a large coating with good alignment, no residue, and high-process-temperature tolerance. “And this process lets us utilize a huge infrastructure of current Taiwan flat-panel display manufacturing,” he said. “We could use a capacity that’s not being utilized, to make a new product.” It has been given the name FlexUP, or Flexible Universal Plane, which has “higher transparency, higher electrical conductivity, and it’s flexible.”
Dr. Chen touched on some current events that had shifted the global balance of firms in the flexible electronics field. The recent financial crisis, he said, had put great pressure on some innovative but small Western companies, which have been forced to seek additional funding or even buyouts. The best-known example was the absorption of E Ink into the large Taiwanese firm PVI, the combination of which is now known as E Ink Holdings, Inc. E Ink Holdings now supplies e-paper modules to Amazon, Sony, Barnes & Noble, and many other firms. In another case, the giant Taiwanese firm AU Optronics Corp (AUO) bought another American company called SiPix, which had developed a microscale e-paper that is imprinted with minute holders for nanoquantities of fluid or particles and can be produced in sheets by roll-to-roll technology. In summary, he said, “one firms’ demise happened to be the other firm’s fortune.”
Suddenly, much of the world’s e-reader technology is now concentrated in Taiwan.
He closed by summarizing some of his major points:
• Leveraging the experience and sound infrastructure of ICT manufacturing, Taiwan is well positioned for developing next-generation flexible electronics.
• Development activity in Taiwan is propelled by the government’s seed funding. ITRI, the government-owned institute, then develops, along with research universities, the fundamental technologies and subsequently transfers them to industries as it forms a complete supply chain.
• Presently, flex display is the most promising market opportunity for flexible electronics. Large-area, flexible sensors could be the next.
• Recent financial difficulty had driven a wave of Western startup firms to seek funding or manufacturing partners in Asia. This trend had helped to bring to Taiwan important new technologies in flexible electronics.
Dr. Lee, professor of electrical engineering and computer science at Seoul National University (SNU), began with a brief discussion of the origins of printing. He graciously noted the beauty of the Gutenberg process of the 1400s, but proudly displayed an even earlier Korean effort. This was a Korean Buddhist document known as the Jikji, the world’s oldest product of moveable metal type, printed in Korea in 1377.
Korea is a small country, he noted, so it had to focus its development efforts on specific areas that were relevant to existing industry. He said that display technology and some of the applications fit well with earlier technologies in terms of infrastructure and human skills. “We believe that everything that can benefit from being flexible will be flexible, and printed,” he said.
He added that for a resource-poor country, flexible electronics had special appeal in their low cost and ability to reduce material waste and energy consumption. He also noted that a paradigm shift is under way that “may be a threat to our existing industries” if Korea does not adapt quickly enough. In doing so, he said, Korea would take a slightly different path than Taiwan. Because its own government was more conservative than that of Taiwan in
matters of technology funding, the shift would have to be led by Korean industry, which, he said, was “very aggressive” and is led by global giants Samsung Electronics and LG Electronics.
Korean Universities and Research Institutes
Dr. Lee offered a detailed view of Korean universities and research institutes, which are located primarily in Seoul, Daejeon City, Jeonbuk Province, and Jeonju City. The initiatives in printed electronics were in five main locations, the largest in Seoul. They were coordinated by the Korean Display Industry Association (KDIA), whose focus was mainly on flexible electronics. The other major association is KoPEA, the Korea Printed Electronics Association; both are headquartered in Seoul. The two associations, he noted, did not work closely together, even though their interests overlap. Another broad organization, the 21st Century Frontier Program, supported research in next-generation displays, and Seoul National University supported an Inter-University Semiconductor Research Center Display Center and an OLED Center.
In Daejeon City, the Electronics Telecommunications Research Center (ETRI) is one of largest such centers in Korea, focusing on flex and OLED lighting. Also located there is the Korean Research Institute of Chemical Technology, conducting research on printing technologies; the Korean Institute in Machinery and Mechanics, for research on printing machines and technology; and the Korean Advanced Institute for Science and Technology, a largely theoretical research institute.
In Jeonbuk Province and Jeonju City, he said, were held International Workshops on Flexible and Printed Electronics at Mooju. In addition, there is the Jenoju City branch of KETI, and the Korean Printed Electronics Center, supported by the Ministry of the Knowledge Economy.
In Sunchon City is the Regional Innovation Center and the World-Class University Program, supported by the Ministry of Education, Science, and Technology. The university has a printed electronics department with both undergraduate and graduate students that is “quite unique,” he said.
Pohang City is home to the premier Korean research facility for nanotechnology, the Pohang Science and Technology University, a small research university and cluster.
Dr. Lee also briefly discussed the Korean Printed Electronics Center, most of which is located in Jeonju City. The government gave support of $70 million from 2004 to 2009, and the local government contributed as well. Some 59 universities, small companies, and other participating organizations work at the center.
Of the major technology companies in Korea investing in flexible electronics, Samsung maintains most of its facilities at a large complex in Suwon City/Kiheung, including Samsung Electronics (R&D on semiconductors, LCDs, and Si-solar cells) and Samsung SMD (OLED R&D). The second
FIGURE 2 Roadmap of displays and government support.
SOURCE: Changhee Lee, Presentation at September 24, 2010, National Academies Symposium on “Flexible Electronics for Security, Manufacturing, and Growth in the United States.”
corporate giant, LG, supported LG Display in Kumi City (LCDs and OLEDS) and LG Display in Paju City (LCDs, OLEDs). He said that LG would invest more than $1 billion in 2010 and 2011 to build up OLED products.
Finally, he said, several small companies were located in Sunchon city, making roll-to-roll RFIDs.
Dr. Lee showed a summary roadmap of the Korean display industry and government support. “In 1950 we had had nothing,” he said, “all destroyed by Korean war.” The electronics industry emerged rapidly in the late 1960s and 1970s, beginning with black-and-white television sets. This was followed in the 1980s by the desktop PC industry, followed again by Internet technology and computer notebooks in the early 1990s. Investments in the display area began in the 1990s with the licensing of technology from Japanese firms. As Korean
firms quickly learned to make displays on their own, said Dr. Lee, the government created an “ambitious” G7 program for displays (named pointedly after the world’s seven leading economic nations). The G7 provided R&D money for the period 1995 to 2001. Five display technology centers were set up under the informal slogan “catch Japan” (a member of the G7), and by 2004, Korea had done just that, becoming the largest producer of LCDs. Korea then set up another program, the 21st Century Frontier Program, to develop next-generation displays from 2002 to 2012, with a budget of $10 million per year. These included all-organic displays, organic thin-film transistors, and e-papers. This project was accompanied by the SystemIC 2010 Project, from 2001 to 2011, focused mostly on memory. It had no technology-on-system IC, so the government invested in research on these systems. “This was really a big project,” Dr. Lee said.
Dr. Lee praised both KDIA and KoPEA for their role in moving the industry forward, saying they had “allowed the display industry to become strong.” In addition, the government helped by asking industry, especially Samsung and LG, to support the Korean research institutes, while investing about $5 million per year in public funds. Most of the funding went for active-matrix OLEDs, OLED lighting, and related technologies. The associations also urged Samsung and LG to start developing facilities to produce large-area
FIGURE 3 Printed Electronics roadmap.
SOURCE: Changhee Lee, Presentation at September 24, 2010, National Academies Symposium on “Flexible Electronics for Security, Manufacturing, and Growth in the United States.”
OLEDs, which the country did not yet have. Each company is forming a consortium to develop this technology and will compete for a contract to develop it. Funding will also go to ETRI and to research universities.
In discussing the two competing associations, he noted that each sponsors an international conference on its own specialty—one on display, one on printed electronics. KoPEA did not have as much power as KDIA, he said, which has a longer history and more support from both Samsung and LG. KDIA also has a Printed Electronics Roadmap for both printed and flexible electronics.
SNU itself has a long history as a display technology research center, he said, which was initiated by the government during the days of the G7 Project. The university does fundamental research in display technology, educates graduate students in display areas, and exchanges personnel and technology with the display industry.
In closing, Dr. Lee offered a summary of Korea’s standing and rapid progress in this technology:
• Korea is very active in developing printing technology for displays, especially large-area, low-cost, ecodisplays, and flexible displays. The development of other PE technologies is in its infancy.
• Korea’s main advantages in flexible electronics are strong manufacturers (Samsung, LG) and good supply chains.
• Korea’s weaknesses include a lack of fundamental research, core IPs, and advanced materials.
• The strategy of the Korean government has four primary components:
Support research on core technologies (printing technologies and materials) and strategic applications (LCSs, OLEDs, e-papers, touch panels, flexible PCBs, organic solar cells, and RFIDs).
Strengthen the equipment and materials industries through next-generation display testbeds, R&D tax exemptions, support for small companies, and other policies.
Build infrastructure, enhance international collaboration, and support international conferences and R&D programs.
Educate more R&D manpower through research centers, Build Korea 21, and World Class University programs.
“We have many opportunities,” he said in closing. “There is a paradigm shift under way, and we are very active.”
A questioner asked whether the United States has any technology clusters to support flexible electronics at the level supported by Korea. One participant joked that on a tiny island like Taiwan, everything is a cluster. Mr. Hannah said that the Flexible Display Center in Arizona is the closest to such a cluster, and that university technology cluster near Albany, New York, is planning a cluster on flexible printing technology. “But there is really no cluster in the U.S. beyond that.”
Dr. Kota asked whether the United States has come “too late to the party.” He also asked about offshoring. If the United States supports good companies, he asked, how do we keep other big companies from taking them over?
Mr. Hannah said that the LCD platform display industry moved to the Far East “because a lot of the drivers and backplane technology required to manufacture the devices were there.” He said that he believed flexible electronics would have “a much simplified device structure” and could be manufactured and distributed locally. This would bring an advantage in transportation and lower overall costs of ownership. He used the analogy of newspapers, which are printed and distributed locally. “If you can get your costs down for manufacturing and materials, why can’t you print your electronics locally and distribute locally? I think a new model can exist, especially when there’s not a lot of low-cost labor associated with the manufacturing process. I think you can build that industry in the U.S. and you can keep it here.” He added that Europe seems to be betting on this outcome in its efforts to bring the manufacturing base back to Europe. “That’s why all these initiatives are happening in the U.K. and Germany, for example. They want the next-generation manufacturing industry to happen in their back yard. We should be feeling the same.”
Zakya Kafafi from NSF asked how much activity in flexible electronics is there in Middle Eastern countries. She said that these countries seemed to be interested mostly in photovoltaics. She also asked why there were “no women” in this field. Dr. Lee responded that in Korea about five of the engineers and other researchers in his department, electrical engineering, were women, and that the ratio increases steadily.
A participant from George Mason University asked how Korea could be successful with its lack of IP rights. Dr. Lee replied that Korea does not have a long enough research history to have built up IP on the fundamental technologies. “We get licenses, or buy startup companies in America or Europe,” he said. Recently the country has focused on filing patents, he said, and the number of awards has increased significantly. “I think we are number four in the world, after Japan, Germany, and the USA. Eventually we won’t have such serious problems. Now we need collaboration with small companies. In addition, the government has encouraged filing patents and gave incentives to researchers in universities and research institutes. So when government funding
results in a patent, it should be owned by the university or research institute, but the incentive should go to the inventors, the portion depending on the agreement, typically 10 to 70 percent, depending on each license. “Another challenge is that we don’t have a good financial system to support startups, based on IP, so this is quite different from the EU and America. It is really difficult to initiate startup companies.”
Mr. Hannah confirmed the importance of IP, saying that it was fundamentally a value driver for the company. “We focus on patenting, both core molecules and uses. Even with a company of just 70 people, we have our own in-house patent attorney and a legal assistant, and one of the best outside legal firms in the country.”
Byron repeated the question about whether “we were indeed late to the party,” asking “our guests from outside the U.S.” for a candid response. Dr. Chen replied, with some humor, “Why do you want to get manufacturing back? It’s a dirty and sweaty job. [Laughter.] In Taiwan, we’re trying to climb up the value chain. We need either more IP, or the key material. Actually, manufacturing requires a very high investment, and low return. I know it’s a campaign here. But think more about it. Do you really want to do that? This country is still great, in terms of technology, in terms of innovation. But we have lost a little of the manufacturing mentality. In the United States, we no longer have that discipline, or that spirit of working. So think about it. It doesn’t mean we cannot do it, or too late to the party, just a matter of finding where we want to be in the right position.”
Mr. Hannah responded that the healthiest economy has a balance. “You have to have manufacturing, service, and all types of jobs. At some point, we have to bring some portion of manufacturing back, and regrow the manufacturing base. This is an opportunity where we can grow from virtually nothing in this industry to potentially a $300 billion industry over the next 20 years. In an industry of that size, you have to have your piece of manufacturing.”