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The Flexible Electronics Opportunity (2014)

Chapter: Executive Summary

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Suggested Citation:"Executive Summary." National Research Council. 2014. The Flexible Electronics Opportunity. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18812.
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Executive Summary

In response to a congressional request, the National Research Council’s Board on Science, Technology, and Economic Policy has examined and compared selected innovation programs, both foreign and domestic, and their potential to advance the production of flexible electronics technology. To augment their extensive knowledge of the industry, the committee convened two workshops to draw on the perspectives of industry leaders, academics, and senior government officials, conducted several site visits, and commissioned research on policies and programs that have been implemented in East Asia, Europe, and the United States.

The analysis summarized in this volume includes a review of the role of research consortia around the world to advance flexible electronics technology. Based on an in-depth understanding of the structure, focus, funding, and likely impact of these programs, the committee has identified several recommendations to develop a robust flexible electronics industry in the United States.

KEY FINDINGS

Flexible electronics technologies involve circuits that can bend and stretch, enabling significant versatility in applications and the prospect of low-cost manufacturing processes. They represent an important technological advance, in terms of their performance characteristics and potential range of applications, including medical care, packaging, lighting and signage, consumer electronics, and alternative energy (especially solar energy.) What these technologies have in common is a dependence on efficient manufacturing that currently requires improved processes, tooling, and materials, as well as ongoing research. (Finding A)

Suggested Citation:"Executive Summary." National Research Council. 2014. The Flexible Electronics Opportunity. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18812.
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Seeking to capture the global market in flexible electronics, major U.S. competitors in East Asia and Europe have launched targeted, large-scale programs with significant government funding to develop these new technologies, refine them, and ultimately manufacture them within their national borders. National and regional investment undertaken by our foreign competitors is significantly larger than comparable U.S. investment and more weighted toward later-stage applied research and development. (Finding E)

Significant U.S. expansion in the market for flexible electronics is not likely to occur in the absence of mechanisms to address investment risk, the sharing of intellectual property, and the diverse technology requirements associated with developing and manufacturing flexible electronics technologies. Linking industry, university, and government is a proven means to galvanize industry and promote cooperation in applied research and development. (Finding G)

Accordingly, the committee finds that collaboration among industry, universities, and government offers the best prospect for achieving sufficient levels of investment and the acceleration of new technology development that is required to develop a vibrant flexible electronics industry. (Finding H)

KEY RECOMMENDATIONS

Consistent with the challenges and opportunities outlined in the findings above, the committee recommends the following:

  1. The United States should increase funding of basic research related to flexible electronics and augment support for university-based consortia to develop prototypes, manufacturing processes, and products in close collaboration with contributing industrial partners.
  2. Consortia, bringing together industry, universities, and various levels of government, should be used as a means of fostering precompetitive applied research in flexible electronics.
  3. The United States should establish and support a network of user facilities dedicated to flexible electronics.
  4. Where possible, federal efforts to support the growth of competitive flexible electronics industries should leverage state and regional developmental efforts, with the objective of establishing co-located local supply chains and capturing the associated cluster synergies.
  5. Agency mission needs should help drive demand for flexible electronics technologies, while lowering costs, improving capabilities, and contributing to the development of a skilled workforce.
Suggested Citation:"Executive Summary." National Research Council. 2014. The Flexible Electronics Opportunity. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18812.
×
Page 1
Suggested Citation:"Executive Summary." National Research Council. 2014. The Flexible Electronics Opportunity. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18812.
×
Page 2
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Flexible electronics describes circuits that can bend and stretch, enabling significant versatility in applications and the prospect of low-cost manufacturing processes. They represent an important technological advance, in terms of their performance characteristics and potential range of applications, ranging from medical care, packaging, lighting and signage, consumer electronics and alternative energy (especially solar energy.) What these technologies have in common is a dependence on efficient manufacturing that currently requires improved technology, processes, tooling, and materials, as well as ongoing research. Seeking to capture the global market opportunity in flexible electronics, major U.S. competitors have initiated dedicated programs that are large in scope and supported with significant government funding to develop and acquire these new technologies, refine them, and ultimately manufacture them within their national borders. These national and regional investments are significantly larger than U.S. investment and more weighted toward later stage applied research and development.

The Flexible Electronics Opportunity examines and compares selected innovation programs both foreign and domestic, and their potential to advance the production of flexible electronics technology in the United States. This report reviews the goals, concept, structure, operation, funding levels, and evaluation of foreign programs similar to major U.S. programs, e.g., innovation awards, S&T parks, and consortia. The report describes the transition of flexible electronics research into products and to makes recommendations to improve and to develop U.S. programs. Through an examination of the role of research consortia around the world to advance flexible electronics technology, the report makes recommendations for steps that the U.S. might consider to develop a robust industry in the United States.

Significant U.S. expansion in the market for flexible electronics technologies is not likely to occur in the absence of mechanisms to address investment risks, the sharing of intellectual property, and the diverse technology requirements associated with developing and manufacturing flexible electronics technologies. The Flexible Electronics Opportunity makes recommendations for collaboration among industry, universities, and government to achieve the critical levels of investment and the acceleration of new technology development that are needed to catalyze a vibrant flexible electronics industry.

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