The United States enjoys numerous advantages in the emerging field of flexible electronics. It has the largest and best system of research universities in the world, many of which are currently engaged in research projects with themes relevant to flexible electronics. In a field in which materials science is unusually important, North America has world-class companies with competencies, equipment, process technologies, and intellectual property relevant to flexible and printed electronics, and a number of them are engaged in significant precompetitive research and development (R&D). The U.S. defense establishment, which has fostered many successful high-technology industries, has demonstrated that it is interested in flexible electronics technologies for military use and that it will support development of the necessary research infrastructure. A number of U.S. states that are at the forefront of U.S. innovation have established research centers for flexible and printed electronics.
However, in a field in which government support appears to be a necessary driver in early-stage industrial developments, the United States appears to be being outspent by governments in Europe and East Asia. Moreover, as in Europe, no major company has emerged in North America as a large-scale device aggregator producing consumer products incorporating flexible electronics technologies. Although several innovative small firms are producing consumer products such as e-writing displays and medical and athletic patches domestically, most current onshore manufacturing consists of materials/equipment supply chain production supporting manufacturing operations outside the United States.
The U.S. federal government is promoting the development of U.S. capabilities in flexible electronics through numerous institutional channels in the defense, civilian, and dual-use spheres. Much of this effort reflects mission orientations of individual federal agencies rather than an effort to foster industrial development, per se.1 Government procurement, which has played a major role in the early-stage development of a number of U.S. high-technology industries, represents a potentially significant source of initial demand pull.2
The U.S. Armed Services
The U.S. Armed Services have been in the forefront of support for development of flexible electronics in the United States. The Army Research Laboratory and other U.S. Army organizations, the Office of Naval Research (ONR), the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), and the U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) currently support numerous research efforts in the field with an emphasis on defense applications, particularly displays. The Armed Services’ research efforts in flexible electronics arose out of earlier programs in the field of displays, an area in which the services led U.S. research through the end of the 1980s.3 Following a 13-year interval during which the Defense Advanced
1 Most federal organizations, including the national laboratories, have focused missions and are not necessarily sensitive or responsive to particular industry strategies and imperatives. NIST is exceptional because its own mission is actually to support industry, and its laboratories’ focus is on so-called “infra-technologies” that serve to develop industry standards, comprising pre-competitive public goods. Apart from NIST, the mission orientation of the principal federal R&D agencies limits the extent to which they can support industry innovation. See generally Congressional Budget Office, Federal Support for Research and Development, 2007; Rand Corporation, Federal Investment in R&D (Science and Technology Policy Institute, study prepared for the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, 2002).
2 See Stewart W. Leslie, “The Biggest ‘Angel’ of Them All: The Military and the Making of Silicon Valley,” in Understanding Silicon Valley: The Anatomy of an Entrepreneurial Region, ed. Martin Kenney (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2002). A number of studies have concluded that over the longer term, government procurement “triggered greater innovation impulses in more areas than did R&D subsidies.” Jakob Edler and Luke Georghiou, “Public Procurement and Innovation—Resurrecting the Demand Side,” Research Policy 36 (2007): 949. See also Michael Borrus, James E. Millstein, and John Zysman, “Trade and Development in the Semiconductor Industry: Japanese Challenge and American Response,” in American Industry in International Competition: Government Policies and Corporate Strategies, eds. John Zysman and Laura Tyson (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1983), 154–56; James Utterback and Albert Murray, The Influence of Defense Procurement and Sponsorship of Research and Development on the Development of Civilian electronics Industry (Center for Policy Alternatives, MIT, 1977).
3 The active matrix liquid crystal display (AMLCD) was created pursuant to the Air Force–supported projects to improve cockpit displays. The Army supported research to develop inorganic electroluminescent (IEL) display technology for land combat systems. Between 1989 and 2001, defense-related R&D in displays was led by DARPA. Darrel G. Hopper, “Defense Display Strategy and Roadmaps,” in Cockpit Displays IX: Displays for Defense Applications (Proceedings of SPIE,
Research Projects Agency (DARPA) spearheaded U.S. defense-related display research, research leadership by the services was resumed.4 At that point the Army, seeking to improve and modernize its capabilities pursuant to the Future Combat Systems (FCS) and other similar programs, began to undertake significant developmental investments in flexible displays, most notably the establishment of the Flexible Display Center at Arizona State University.5 Dr. David Morton, program manager for flexible displays at the Army Research Laboratory (ARL), summarized the potential significance of flexible displays for U.S. soldiers:
The soldier is going to have a display that is essentially embedded on his or her uniform that will provide information when it is needed. The system will determine what information is needed so as not to overload the soldier with additional information. If a soldier needs friend-or-foe information or instructions on what to do, it will be provided instantly. The display that’s on the soldier will not break. It will use very low power, and it’s not going to wear out. More important, from a systems standpoint, it’s made in a commercial environment. It didn’t cost too much to insert, which means we can give it to all soldiers.6
Dr. Eric W. Forsythe, staff physicist for the ARL, indicated in 2013 that the Army’s development strategy is to leverage existing intellectual property with a focus on technology that can be manufactured at reasonable cost. “Once the manufacturing processes are in place, the goal is to transition them to industry so the DoD [Department of Defense] can purchase the technology back at costs comparable to Apple iPads.”7
The AFRL, a unit of the Air Force Material Command, and the Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR), performs technological research and contracts with U.S. entities for research in a variety of areas related to printed and flexible electronics. A current Air Force priority is human monitoring, including pilots and support personnel, and in 2013 the AFRL announced it would
vol. 4712, 2002, 1–7); Darrel G. Hopper and Daniel D. Desjardins, “Analysis of the Defense Display Market,” Information Display 18, nos. 4 and 5 (2002): 40–44.
4 Darrel G. Hopper, “Display Science and Technology for Defense and Security,” in Organic Light-Emitting Materials and Devices VII (Proceedings of SPIE, 2004).
5 David Morton and Eric Forsythe, “Flexible-Display Development for Army Applications,” Information Display, October 2007.
6 Dr. Eric W. Forsythe, “Flexible Communications,” in Army AL&T Magazine, July-September 2012.
7 “Army Targets Flexible Electronics, Displays,” Micromanufacturing, November-December 2013. Historically, it has not always been possible to devise technologies that are suitable for defense applications that can concurrently be manufactured for civilian use on a mass basis. Some essential military technologies exist for which there is simply no consumer demand, such as radiation-hardened, high-power microwave and millimeter-wave integrated circuits. Many military applications require custom-designed features for which limited civilian demand exists. Commercial manufacturers whose competitiveness rests on high-volume production “are not amenable to custom product production, putting them at odds with DoD’s leading-edge technology, custom-design, small volume product needs.” Defense Science Board Task Force on High Performance Microchip Supply, February 2005, pp. 23–24, 41.
provide $2.2 million in funding to co-fund an industry manufacturing consortium that will “operate at the junction of nanotechnology, biotechnology, additive manufacturing and flexible electronics” to develop technologies permitting the remote, wireless monitoring of physical functions in real time.8 In 2010, the AFRL cited as one of its significant achievements in nanotechnology the development of new processing techniques in the formation, doping, and transfer of silicon nano-membranes, which were used to produce what were then the world’s fastest flexible electronic devices, an effort conducted in collaboration with the University of Wisconsin and the AFOSR.9 The Air Force has provided funding to a number of U.S. companies to develop process technologies and tools to enable the manufacturing of flexible electronic devices.10
Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)
DARPA is a Department of Defense agency that develops new technologies with defense and dual use applications. DARPA’s High Definition Systems (HDS) program, which operated between the late 1980s and 2001, invested more than $650 million in the development of display technologies for military use. DARPA’s effort was undertaken, in substantial part, because little U.S. capability existed with respect to manufacturing displays, and Japanese producers of liquid crystal displays (LCDs), who dominated world markets in the 1980s, refused to work with U.S. defense research organizations for “cultural” reasons. South Korean and Taiwanese producers of LCDs, who displaced Japanese companies as market leaders, were willing to work with DARPA and in some cases were funded by DARPA directly. By 2001, DARPA observed that “the market for LCDs is highly competitive, presently a robust marketplace in which DoD suppliers have
8 “Air Force Award to FlexTech Alliance Will Accelerate Development of New Nano-Bio Devices,” Red Orbit, January 30, 2013.
9 AFRO, AFRL Nanoscience Technologies: Applications, Transitions and Innovations, 2010, 15. This project featured the work of University of Wisconsin Professors Zhenqiang Ma and Max Lagally. Subsequent financial support from AFOSR enabled Professor Ma to develop curved night vision goggles using flexible germanium nanomembrane semiconductors. “Military Projects Push Boundaries of Flexible Electronics in Imaging Technologies,” University of Wisconsin, Madison News, December 28, 2012; “Scientist Demonstrates Record Speed for Bendable Electronics,” Advanced Materials, Manufacturing, Testing Information Analysis Center, January 30, 2008.
10 AFORS funded a 2008-2012 project involving Cornell University and DuPont to develop a process for spraying a film composed of carbon nanotubes onto a substrate to create thin, flexible electronic devices. “Flexible Circuits Unfold,” AFCEA International, June 2009. In 2013 the AFRL awarded a contract to Optemec, a spinoff from Sandia National Laboratory, to enhance its “Aerosol Jet” technology to enable large area printing of high-performance, carbon nanotube–based, thin-film transistors. “Air Force Research Lab Awards Optemec Contract to Advance Fully Printed Transistor Technology,” Printed Electronics Now, December 12, 2013; “Optemec wins Contract to Advance Fully Printed Transistor Technology,” Flexible Substrate, December 2013.
ready access to the most advanced technologies.”11 DARPA’s Flexible Emissive Display program was launched in fiscal 1999 to develop and demonstrate large area, high-resolution emissive, rugged displays for defense applications, including use in aircraft, ships, vehicles, and infantry uniforms and equipment.12
National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)
NIST, an arm of the Department of Commerce, has a mandate to promote U.S. industrial competitiveness through the application of standards, measurement, science, and technology. NIST funds R&D by universities and companies and operates its own laboratories featuring cutting-edge equipment that are available to industrial users.
NIST’s Technology Innovation Program (TIP) provided grants usually ranging from $3 million to $5 million to support research and innovation in areas of critical national need. The program supported innovation in the flexible electronics sector, but was effectively terminated in 2011.13 NIST has developed proprietary flexible electronic technologies in its own laboratories, such as a flexible memory device similar to a memristor fabricated out of inexpensive common materials in 2009.14 NIST’s measuring equipment has been deployed to assist technology developers pursuing themes on organic photovoltaics, including printable and flexible thin-film organic and hybrid solar cells.15
National Science Foundation (NSF)
NSF is a government agency that funds basic research and education in non-medical areas of engineering and science. With an annual budget of $7.5 billion, it is purely a funding agency for external research and does not operate its own
11 Testimony of D. Jane A. Alexander, Acting Director, DARPA, Before the Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities, Committee on Armed Services, United States Senate, June 5, 2001, 24.
13 NIST extended a $3 million matching TIP grant to Ohio-based Kent Displays in 2011 to enable the company to optimize its manufacturing capabilities for flexible LCDs. “Northeast Ohio’s Flex Matters Cluster Attracts $14 Million in 2010,” Printed Electronics World, February 11, 2011.
14 Nadine Gergel-Hackett et al., “A Flexible Solution-Processed Memristor, IEEE Electron Device Letters, July 2009.
15 Advanced organic photovoltaics rely on complex nanostructured shapes with multiple components including combinations of materials types with nanoscale structures that are not fully known. Performance of devices varies from line to line without sufficient control or understanding. NIST seeks to address such basic, critical unknowns using sophisticated measuring tools that include x-rays, synchrotrons, scanning tunneling microscopes, and acoustic surface measurement. The objective is to understand the materials science underlying the behavior of materials in a manufacturing context. Eric K. Lin, NIST, “Advancing Technology Through Measurement Science at NIST,” National Research Council, The Future of Photovoltaics Manufacturing in the United States: Summary of Two Symposia (Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2011), 111–112.
laboratories. NSF primarily funds flexible electronics through its Division of Electrical, Communications and Cyber Systems. Depending on the precise definition of “flexible electronics,” NSF supports about 200 research projects in the field, usually small, single-investigator efforts, which include thematic areas such as transistors, zinc oxide, organic light-emitting diodes (OLEDs), and printed electronics.16 Each of these projects is funded at a level of about $300,000 over a 3-year period. Many of those projects are undertaken in collaboration with industry.17
Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E)
The Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy is an organization which was formed within the Department of Energy (DOE) in 2007 and was modeled on DARPA to fund high-risk, high-reward R&D in the energy field that might not otherwise be undertaken in the private sector because of the technological and financial risks. Funded at $275 million in 2012, it extended financial support to nearly 300 research projects in the energy field between 2009 and mid-2013.
ARPA-E is funding a number of research projects with flexible electronics themes. It provided a $6 million grant to ITN Energy Systems, Inc. (ITN) to support development of flexible electrochromatic coating materials, which use a small electrical charge to change the tint of windows to control light and heat. The new technology, which will be produced in a roll-to-roll process, will be formed to fit a variety of surface shapes and will represent a lower-cost alternative to materials that must be applied to flat glass during the manufacturing process.18 In 2013 the Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) launched a project with ARPA-E and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, the “Printed Integral Battery Project,” using PARC co-extrusion technology to demonstrate a manufacturing process that deposits an entire functional lithium-ion battery in a single pass.19
Small Business Administration (SBA)
The SBA is an independent agency of the federal government established to advise, assist, and protect the interests of U.S. small businesses. The SBA provides financial assistance to regional innovation clusters for business training,
16 Presentation of Dr. Pradeep Fulay, NSF, National Research Council, Flexible Electronics for Security, Manufacturing and Growth in the United States: Report of a Symposium (Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2013). NSF’s Emerging Frontiers in Research and Innovation (EFRI) is funding the BioFlex initiative, which is developing biocompatible flexible electronic systems with healthcare applications, including patient-friendly monitoring, detection, and treatment functions. “NSF Funds Flexible Electronics and Self-Folding Structure Projects,” Flexible Substrate, November 2012.
17 Presentation of Pradeep P. Fulay.
18 ARPAE, “Electrochromatic Film for More Efficient Windows,” <http://aspa-e.energy.gov/?q=arpa-e-projects/electrochromatic-film-more-efficient-windows>.
19 “PARC Launches Printed Battery Project,” Flexible Substrate, August 2013.
commercialization and transfer services, and other services for small companies. In 2010, the SBA awarded 1 of 10 Regional Innovation Cluster contracts to support FlexMatters, an emerging flexible electronics cluster in northeast Ohio. The 1-year award of $500,000 was provided to NorTech, a regional nonprofit development organization to help large organizations source products and services from small flexible electronics firms in the region. In 2011, an additional $500,000 was awarded to NorTech to continue the work. In 2012, the SBA awarded one of seven Regional Innovation Cluster contracts to NorTech to help small firms in the FlexMatters cluster engage market-leading companies to become anchor customers.20 The SBA awarded NorTech $385,000 in 2012 and $370,000 in 2013. An additional 3 years of funding is optional.
Economic Development Administration (EDA)
As the only federal government agency focused exclusively on economic development, the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration plays a critical role in fostering regional economic development efforts in communities across the nation. Through strategic investments that foster job creation and attract private investment, the EDA supports development in economically distressed areas of the United States. In 2011, the EDA led a multiagency effort “to support the advancement of 20 high-growth, regional industry clusters. Investments from three federal agencies and technical assistance from 13 additional agencies supported development in areas such as advanced manufacturing, information technology, aerospace and clean technology, in rural and urban regions in 21 states.”21 A NorTech-led consortium of organizations received funding of $2 million to create the Northeast Ohio Speed to Market Accelerator (STMA). The mission of the STMA is to provide manufacturing, market development, and workforce development services to support the advanced energy and flexible electronics (FlexMatters) clusters in northeast Ohio.
Small Business Innovation Research Program
The Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Program is a federal requirement that government agencies with large research budgets use 2.5 percent of their extramural R&D budgets for research contacts or research grants to small businesses. SBIR Phase I awards of up to $150,000 may be followed, in appropriate cases, with Phase II awards of up to $1 million. Commercialization (Phase III) must be funded by nonfederal entities. Federal SBIR awards are frequently augmented by state funding, and a number of states administer programs
20 “NorTech Wins U.S. Small Business Administration Contract to Grow Flexible Electronics Cluster,” Flexible Substrate, February 2013.
21 Department of Commerce, “New Obama Administration Initiates to Spin Economic Growth in 20 Regions across the Country,” September 22, 2011.
U.S. National Laboratories
The U.S. national laboratories, administered by the Department of Energy, support research related to national defense, energy security, and public health. The national labs offer the university and industrial community access to large, cutting-edge research facilities, such as high-performance computers, light sources, simulation tools, and specialized synthesizing facilities, to address major technological challenges. A number of the laboratories are conducting research directly applicable to the field of flexible electronics.
National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). NREL is the principal U.S. laboratory for R&D with respect to renewable energy and energy efficiency. In 2010, NREL entered into a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) with Solarmer Energy, Inc., to develop ways to extend the useful life of plastic solar cells.24 In 2013, NREL disclosed that it was using flexible glass developed by Corning, Willow Glass, to develop thin-film cadmium telluride photovoltaic cells, which are sufficiently thin and durable to permit direct installation on rooftops as solar shingles.25
Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. In 2013, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) disclosed that it had developed a microscale activator that flexes like a finger and may have applications in artificial muscles, microfluidics, and drug delivery in humans.26 Berkeley Lab’s work with respect to materials that respond physically to light could lead to applications such as “smart curtains” that bend, straighten, or open and close in response to light, and light-driven motors and robots that move toward or away from light.27 Berkeley Lab,
22 National Research Council, Best Practices in State and Regional Innovation Initiatives (Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2013), 93–95; National Research Council, SBIR: An Assessment of the DOD Fast Track Initiative (Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 2000).
23 In 2013, Plextronics, a Pennsylvania-based maker of polymers and inks for organic electronic applications, disclosed that it had been awarded a $221,000 SBIR grant from the Department of Energy for the design and development of low-cost processors of printed electrodes for OLED lighting. This project will be undertaken in partnership with Electroninks, a maker of printable electronic inks that was spun off from the University of Illinois. “Plextronics Awarded SBIR Grant for Reducing OLED Lighting Costs,” Flexible Substrate, August 2013.
24 “NREL and Solarmer Energy to Extend Lifetime of Plastic Solar Cells,” Printed Electronics World, July 5, 2010.
25 “NREL Uses Corning’s Flexible Willow Glass to Develop Cheap, Efficient Solar Cells,” Flexible Substrate, October 2013.
26 “Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory Develops Micro-Activator That Flexes Under Laser Light,” Flexible Substrate, January 2013.
27 “Lawrence Berkeley Engineers Use Nanotubes to Create Light-Activated ‘Curtains,’” Flexible Substrate, January 2014.
TABLE 7-1 U.S. SBIR Awards—Flexible Electronics Themes
|Year||Sponsor||Recipient||Amount (Thousands of Dollars)||Theme|
|2013||DoE||Universal Display||250||Energy saving phosphorescent OLED lighting|
|2013||DOE||Plextronics||221||Printed electrodes for OLEDs|
|2013||NIH||Applied Nanotech||175||Sensors for detecting bedsores|
|2012||USSOCOM||eMargin||1,120||Optimize OLED microdisplay for mass production|
|2012||DOE||Universal Display||150||Outcoupling solution for OLED lighting|
|2012||Air Force||Ascent Solar||750||Demonstrate PV product using CIGS technology|
|2012||Army||Applied Nanotech||730||Thermal management for portable energy systems|
|2011||DOE||Universal Display||1,000||Thermal management—phosphorescent OLEDs|
|2010||DOE||Universal Display||100||Enhance performance—white PHOLED devices|
|2010||DOE||Universal Display||500||Protective barrier for flexible OLED displays, lighting|
|2010||DOE||Applied Nanotech||1,600||Pilot line for conductive inks|
|2010||Army||Applied Nanotech||100||Develop anode for lithium battery with novel material|
|2009||Army||Universal Display||334||Prototype flexible displays on metal foil|
|2009||DOE||Universal Display||200||Demonstrate white PHOLED technology|
|2009||Army||Nano Dynamics||733||Fabrication of nanomaterials for infrared obscurants|
|2009||Air Force||Universal Display||750||Flexible OLED displays|
SOURCE: Printed Electronics NOW, May 2, July 4, 2013; February 6, November 5, December 5, 2012; October 13, 2011; February 18, April 10, June 23, September 16, 2010; January 15, June 30, October 7 and 22, 2009.
a leading source of x-ray and ultraviolet light beams for research, recently discovered that impure domains in polymer PV cells can improve the performance of the cells if reduced sufficiently in size, with an efficiency gain of 42 percent.28
28 “New Path to More Efficient Organic Solar Cells Uncovered at Berkeley Lab’s Advanced Light Source,” Flexible Substrate, February 2013.
Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Oak Ridge National Laboratory has advanced capabilities in manufacturing and materials research and operates a manufacturing demonstration facility. It is conducting research in roll-to-roll manufacturing using pulse thermal processing and other technologies to develop efficient manufacturing techniques for flexible electronics, photovoltaics, and battery systems.29 Oak Ridge has worked with Texas-based Novacentrix in the development of Pulse Forge tools, which dry, cure, sinter, or anneal high-temperature materials on low-temperature substrates, with applications in the manufacture of flexible electronics, an innovation that received a regional Federal Laboratory Consortium Award in 2013.30 In 2011, researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory developed a way to make conductive coatings comprised of carbon nanotubes more transparent, reducing the problem associated with their tendency to absorb too much light in the visible region of the light spectrum. The discovery enhances the extent to which nanotube-based coatings can compete with the transparent conducting material indium tin oxide, which requires indium, a material that is expensive and sometimes difficult to obtain.31
Ames Laboratory. The Ames Laboratory is a national laboratory located on the campus of Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa. In 2012, its scientists disclosed that they had discovered a new technique for using an established polymer, PEDOT:PSS, in OLEDs in a manner that could eliminate the need for use of indium tin oxide.32
The FlexTech Alliance is the only organization in North America devoted wholly to promoting the growth of the electronic displays and printed electronics industry chain.33 The Alliance originated in 1992 as the U.S. Display Consortium (USDC) an industry-led nonprofit public–private partnership modeled on Sematech to develop tools, materials, and components for what was hoped would be an emerging U.S. flat-panel display (FPD) industry. Originally USDC
30 “ORNL Wins Tech Awards,” Knoxville News-Sentinel, March 21, 2013; “Novacentrix Wins 2010 R&D Award for Low Cost Metal on ICI Copper conductive Ink,” Printed Electronics Now, July 20, 2010. In 2008, Oak Ridge granted Novacentrix an exclusive license for a patent for pulsed thermal processing of functional materials to enable the company to “commercialize this important intellectual property for solar and other printed electronics markets including RFID, smart packaging and displays.” Dr. Ron Off, ORNL, in “Oak Ridge National Laboratory Announces Granting of Exclusive Solar and Printed Electronics License to Novacentrix,” Novacentrix Press Release, November 13, 2008.
31 “ORNL Develops Carbon Nanotube Conductive Coatings for Flexible Electronics,” Flexible Substrate, September 2011.
32 Min Cai et al., “Extremely Efficient Indium-Tin-Oxide Free Green Phosphorescent Organic Light-Emitting Diodes,” Advanced Materials 24, no. 31 (2012): 9; “Ames Laboratory Scientists Develop Iridium-Free Organic Light-Emitting Diodes,” Materials Views, December 4, 2012.
was funded by DARPA, which was seeking to create a supply capability in the U.S. for FPDs with military applications.34 Although LCD technology had been invented in the United States, over time U.S. companies abandoned their research efforts and licensed their technologies to Japanese companies, who commercialized a broad array of mass market consumer products incorporating FPDs, with the result that by the early 1990s, they controlled more than 95 percent of the world market for the most prevalent FPD devices, that is, LCDs.35 Japan’s market position has eroded in the face of competition from South Korea and Taiwan, but virtually all FPD manufacturing remained in the Far East. DARPA ended its support for USDC in 2001. At that point the ARL agreed to partner with USDC and to take over the administration of the contract with USDC being managed by DARPA.36
Currently the FlexTech Alliance seeks to identify technology gaps, partner with industry to establish pilot manufacturing sites, and develop the associated supply chain. It receives funding support from the Army and Air Force research laboratories and, as of 2013, from the U.S. Special Operations Command.37 The FlexTech Alliance has sponsored more than 150 technical projects in flexible electronics. One of the most noteworthy of these efforts was the award of a grant to Corning to develop commercially viable techniques for continuous printed electronics manufacturing on glass substrates, an initiative that led to the creation of Corning Willow Glass, a flexible glass substrate with electronics applications.38 Another FlexTech grant assisted Polyera Corporation in the development of high-performance solution-processable organic semiconductors for printed thin-film transistor devices.39 In 2013 a FlexTech-sponsored project involving Physical Optics Corporation and E Ink developed a medical triage bandage
34 Jay Stowsky, “Secrets to Shield or Share? New Dilemmas for Dual Use Technology Development and the Quest for Military and Commercial Advantage in the Digital Age,” BRIE Working Paper 151 (2003).
35 In 1993, the U.S. FPD industry was limited to “several small companies making screens for niche markets and for the military.” The biggest U.S. producer, Wisconsin-based Standish Industries, had annual revenues of approximately $20 million. “Opening the Screen Door: New Consortium Hopes to Take United States into Crucial Flat-Panel Display Territory—Before it’s too Late,” Austin American-Statesman (June 28, 1993). By this point the important military applications of FPDs were becoming evident through their use in systems such as cockpit displays for fighter pilots and portable navigation devices for soldiers in the field. Stowsky, “Secrets to Shield or Share?” 15.
37 “FlexTech Alliance Announces 2013 RFP for Funding Opportunities,” Flexible Substrate, January 2013. FlexTech R&D awards are based on open solicitations and feature 50/50 cost share between FlexTech and its research partner(s).
38 The research was conducted in collaboration with Binghamton University’s Center for Advanced Microelectronics Manufacturing (CAMM) and Western Michigan University’s Center for the Advancement of Printed Electronics (CAPE). “Flexible Displays, Lighting and Solar Cells: Developing Technologies and Building the Supply Chain,” Flexible Substrate, September, 2012.
that detects ECG impulses, skin temperature, and respiration rates, which could increase the ability of first responders to treat patients in the field effectively.40
In 2013, the AFRL announced an award to the FlexTech Alliance of $2.2 million to help launch a new manufacturing consortium operating at the junction of nanotechnology, biotechnology, additive manufacturing, and flexible electronics. Twenty consortium partners that include GE, DuPont Teijin Films, and Lockheed Martin will contribute an additional $3.3 million. “Nano-bio manufacturing” refers to the integration of multiple functions, such as power, sensing, and communications as a flexible electronics platform. Potential applications include embedded sensors on an aircraft’s surfaces to measure stress and to conduct real-time analysis of structural integrity, as wells as medical patches monitoring human performance via wireless technology.41
At the end of 2013, the FlexTech Alliance announced two R&D awards to Soligie, a Minnesota-based firm that provides design and manufacturing services on a foundry-type basis to flexible electronics companies.
- A Soligie-led team comprised of Boeing, American Semiconductor, and Imprint Energy will develop and demonstrate a sensor platform that incorporates a power source, microcontroller, display, and wireless communications functions utilizing printed components and silicon-on-polymer technology. This project is supported by the Army Research Lab.
- Soligie has also received a grant supported by the U.S. Special Operations Command to design, develop, and fabricate scatterable media cards based on printed and flexible electronics technologies capable of delivering a 30-second audio message that could replicate the paper flyers currently mass-distributed by SOCOM forces.42
The FlexTech Alliance’s solicitation for 2014 R&D projects is backed by $3.5 million in new funds from the ARL for development of cutting-edge tools, materials, and processes associated with specific types of flexible and printed electronics.43 There are four themes:
- Develop a tool to process electronic components and hybrid integrated circuits (ICs) on 3-D surfaces utilizing 3D-additive manufacturing processes.
40 “FlexTech Alliance Announces Completion of Project 154 for a Flexible Medical Triage Bandage,” Flexible Substrate, October 2013.
41 “Air Force Award to FlexTech Alliance Will Accelerate Development of New Nano-Bio Devices,” Flexible Substrate, February 2013.
42 “Soligie Receives Two R&D Awards from FlexTech Alliance,” Flexible Substrate, December 2013. FlexTech Alliance, 2014 Targeted and Open Solicitation Request for Proposals (RFP), issued December 10, 2013.
43 FlexTech Alliance, 2014 Targeted and Open Solicitation Request for Proposals (RFP), issued December 10, 2013.
- Develop flexible integrated systems for energy storage, energy harvesting, and wireless transmission for diverse military applications.
- Develop new solutions for integrating hybrid silicon CMOS technologies, including new manufacturing systems and system design for interconnect technology, with applications in medical monitoring, on-body sensors, logistics tagging, and structural integrity monitoring.
- Develop product demonstrators for printed and flexible electronics applications in power generation, energy storage, sensors, communications, and lighting.
The FlexTech Alliance is currently forming “user groups” emphasizing flexible electronics applications, which are intended to facilitate roadmapping, networking with supply chain companies, and precompetitive R&D in thematic areas such as wearable and disposable electronics.44
The Flexible Display Center (FDC) is a research and innovation center focusing on the commercialization of flexible displays formed through a collaboration between the Army and Arizona State University (ASU). In 2004, the Army awarded ASU $43.7 million in a 5-year cooperative agreement to establish the DTC, with an optional additional $50 million for a follow-on 5-year period.45 The FDC has evolved into a major collaboration involving the Army, 18 U.S. foreign companies, and 7 additional universities. (See Table 7-2.)
The FDC has eight academic partners that include seven universities and RTI International, a nonprofit R&D organization based in North Carolina’s Research Triangle Park. Most of these institutions are being funded by the Army, and their work at the center is coordinated by their Army managers. The universities do not contribute funds to the FDC or vice versa.46
The participating companies represent a number of stages in the supply chain. (See Table 7-3.)
The FDC is equipped with a Generation (GEN) II pilot production line that is unique in the Western Hemisphere. It can be employed to produce OLEDs as well as any other organic electronic device involving precision processing of high-purity organic thin-layer-dependent surfaces. The line enables the FDC to prove and demonstrate that the technologies it develops can be manufactured, as well as
44 “FlexTech Alliance Introduces Wearable and Disposable Electronics User Groups,” Flexible Substrate, January 2014.
45 “Army Awards ASU $43.7 Million for Flexible Display Development,” ASU Press Release, February 10, 2004.
46 National Research Council, Best Practices in National Innovation Programs.
TABLE 7-2 ASU Flexible Display Center Participants
The Army Research Laboratory
The Natick Soldier RD&E Center
The U.S. Army Manufacturing Technology Center
The Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology
The US Army Research, Development & Engineering Command
DuPont Teijin Films
Etched in Time, Inc.
L-3 Communications Display Systems
Plastic Optics Corporation
Universal Display Corporation
Oregon State University
University of Texas at Dallas
North Carolina A&T
Penn State University
TABLE 7-3 Participating Companies in the Supply Chain
|E Ink||Boeing||Etched in Time, Inc.|
Honeywell Electronic Materials
|LG Display||Honeywell||ART America|
|QD Vision||L-3||FlexTech Alliance|
|Particle Measuring Systems|
to manufacture limited batches of displays if needed.47 The FDC ultimately seeks to develop a transferable manufacturing process for flexible displays.
The FDC has begun to record technological achievements. In 2012, it disclosed that it had manufactured the world’s largest flexible color display, an OLED prototype measuring 7.4 inches diagonally that met DOD’s request for a full-color, full-motion video flexible display unit.48 In 2013, the FDC and PARC
48 “Arizona State Researchers, Army, Build World’s Largest Flexible Display,” Phoenix Examiner, June 12, 2012.
disclosed that they had “successfully manufactured the world’s largest flexible x-ray detector prototype using advanced thin film transistors, measuring 7.9 diagonal inches.”49 In July 2013, ASU disclosed that it had manufactured an even larger flexible color OLED display, measuring 14.7 inches.50
The FDC includes foreign participants on the same terms as U.S.-based members, which is not viewed as a security concern. The FDC’s goal is to enable the development of displays that will be produced commercially and competitively priced. Security concerns would only arise when the displays are incorporated in military systems, which is outside the scope of the FDC’s activities. Nicholas Colaneri, Director of the Center, comments that
[w]e’re trying to design components that Apple Computer, and Samsung, and anybody else will be putting into their products. Then the Army can buy them for the same $12 that those guys do rather than paying $20,000 a display, which is the old paradigm.51
State-Led Initiatives—The Northeast Ohio Flexible Electronics Cluster
Significant initiatives to support development of flexible electronics are under way at the state as well as the federal level. One noteworthy example is the activity of the Northeast Ohio Technology Coalition (NorTech), a technology-based economic development organization, which is an initiative to accelerate the flexible electronics cluster in northeast Ohio. The FlexMatters cluster was one of the first regional innovation clusters recognized and funded by the federal government and today is linked to a number of federal manufacturing initiatives such as the Jobs and Innovation Accelerator Challenge Clusters (JIAC) and the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute (NAMII). In addition to federal grants and contracts, NorTech and FlexMatters receive significant financial support from regional philanthropic foundations and Ohio Third Frontier.52 As of September 2013, the cluster consisted of 70 member organizations including large companies such as Avery Dennison and American Greetings, regional research institutions, and small- to medium-sized technology businesses representing various segments of the flexible electronics value chain.
49 “ASU Center, PARC Produce World’s Largest Flexible X-Ray Detector,” Targeted News Service, March 19, 2013.
50 “ASU’s Flexible Display Center Hits Milestone with New Technology,” Phoenix Business Journal, July 3, 2013.
51 National Research Council, Best Practices in National Innovation Programs.
52 Presentation by Byron Clayton, NorTech, National Research Council. Flexible Electronics (2010) op. cit. The Third Frontier program, created in 2002, is a state fund supporting early-stage research and development in areas that the private sector may not otherwise invest. During the period 2002-2015 its budget was $2.3 billion. As of 2010, it had invested approximately $60 million in flexible electronics in Ohio. See National Research Council, Best Practices in State and Regional Innovation Initiatives (Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2013), 115–116, 121, 124.
FlexMatters Roadmap. A strategic roadmap of northeast Ohio’s flexible electronics cluster was completed in early 2013.53 It identified a $42 billion dollar market by 2019 for FlexMatters’ core and emerging competencies. (See Table 7-5.) Core competencies consist of the following:
Liquid crystal films: Liquid crystal films are electroactive liquid crystals encapsulated between two sheets of polymer. These functional film subsystems are integrated with electronic driver circuits and are packaged to create finished devices, particularly bistable display products such as e-readers, tinting eyewear, status indicators, or a host of others that do not require animated pixels and benefit from very low power consumption.
Complex flexible circuits: Complex flexible circuits employ the mounting and assembling of electronic components and circuits on flexible plastic substrates. The term “complex” indicates the incorporation of more than one electronics capability onto the circuit, resulting in the possible miniaturization of the electronic assembly or the introduction of robust features and functionality. Complex flexible circuits are used fairly widely over a range of electronics applications where the following attributes are desired: tightly assembled electronic packages, three-axis electrical connections, flexing of an assembly during normal use, replacement of heavier and bulkier wire harnesses, or where space of geometry constraints are driving factors.
Roll-to-roll (R2R) manufacturing: Driven in part by the need of regional liquid crystal film manufacturers to produce high-quality and cost-efficient devices, northeast Ohio has developed competencies in the commercial development and application of R2R processing manufacturing of flexible electronic components.
The NorTech roadmap also identified advanced and emerging competencies of FlexMatters member organizations, including the following:
Roll-to-roll manufacturing of liquid crystal devices: Several northeast Ohio companies with core competencies both in liquid crystal films and R2R manufacturing are developing and commercializing liquid crystal devices for the consumer, defense, and commercial markets.
Roll-to-roll manufacturing of functional films: Northeast Ohio is home to a network of companies and researchers that specialize in functional films and additives, as well as the National Polymer Innovation Center (NPIC) at the University of Akron, a state-of-the-art polymer synthesis and characterization facility that houses three R2R manufacturing systems.
Automated manufacturing of complex flex circuits: Northeast Ohio has substantial technical capabilities in the design and production of complex flex circuits, currently making products incorporated in sensing devices for major aircraft platforms, sophisticated medical devices, and heavy-duty industrial applications.
53 NorTech FlexMatters Roadmap Final Report (2013). The report can be accessed at: <http://www.nortech.org/flexmatters/reports-and-presentations/reports/flexmatters-roadmap-final-report>.
Automated manufacturing of high-value flexible devices: The 2019 goal of the FlexMatters cluster is to achieve a global leadership position in R2R manufacturing of liquid crystal devices, R2R manufacturing of functional films, and automated manufacturing of complex flexible circuits. This will establish a complete regional value chain for manufacturing entire flexible devices. From 2019 forward, FlexMatters plans to focus on leveraging the entire regional value chain to achieve global leadership in producing high-value flexible devices.
Ohio Third Frontier program: The Ohio Third Frontier program was created in 2002 and has been extended through 2015 to support early-stage R&D efforts that the private sector might not otherwise support given that the payoff might be too far in the future. Its budget of $2.2 billion makes it the largest economic development program ever implemented in Ohio. It has made major investments in flexible electronics since 2008. (See Table 7-4.)
University engagement. The FlexMatters cluster is being supported by local research universities, and a number of the flexible electronics companies currently operating in the cluster trace their origins to one or more of these academic institutions. The combined polymers programs of the University of Akron and Case Western Reserve University are among the largest in the world, and those institutions’ formal relationships with the Austen Bioinnovation Institute and the Cleveland Clinic, respectively, are likely to facilitate development of biomedical applications for flexible electronics. Kent State University, which pioneered the LCD, remains one of the foremost centers of LCD knowledge in the world.54
The University of Akron has established the National Polymer Innovation Center (NPIC) in partnership with the University of Dayton and The Ohio State University and 85 companies. Supported by the Ohio Third Frontier program, NPIC is a cooperative research center that works with regional companies to develop flexible electronics technologies. Its activities include research on polymer substrates, demonstration of R2R manufacturing processes on pilot manufacturing lines, and development of displays or electronic devices with double curvature or spherical devices that cover a face. NPIC’s Dr. Miko Cakmak comments on the R2R facility:
We are literally providing this capability, which is called an electromagnetic processing line, to the industry and to anyone who would like to use our facilities. In this center science and engineering research is being carried out to enable these technologies through partnerships with regional institutions including NASA Glen and local industry.55
54 Miko Cakmak, University of Akron, “The Role of Regional Academic Institutions in Flexible Electronics Development,” in National Research Council, Building the Ohio Innovation Economy: Summary of a Symposium (Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2013), 120–122; National Research Council, Best Practices in State and Regional Innovation Initiatives, 131–133.
55 Miko Cakmak, “Role of Regional Academic Institutions,” in National Research Council, Building the Ohio Innovation Economy, 120.
TABLE 7-4 Ohio Third Frontier Program Investments—Flexible Display and Electronics Cluster (2003-2010)
|Research Commercialization Grant Program||2005||174,657|
|Research Commercialization Grant Program||2006||700,000|
|Research and Commercialization Program||2007||23,937,840|
|Research Scholars Program||2008||15,292,382|
|Research and Commercialization Program||2008||5,000,000|
|Research and Commercialization Program||2009||4,900,000|
|Advanced Energy Program||2010||965,000|
|Advanced Materials Program||2010||2,918,000|
SOURCE: NorTech, “A State’s Initiative: Advancing Flexible Electronics in Northeast Ohio,” 2010.
Industry engagement. NorTech periodically convenes cluster members to share resources, knowledge, and opportunities and provides services directly to cluster members for product development and scale-up, project and growth financing, and access to target markets. Dr. Bahman Taheri, representing Alpha Micron, a producer of curved, liquid crystal–based eyewear, comments that “our employees all came from Kent State University, and if they do leave, which they don’t, they would all go to Al Green’s company [Kent Displays in Kent, Ohio] and anyone who leaves Al’s company comes to us.”56
Kent Displays is a spinoff from Kent State University that makes flexible LCDs for nontraditional consumer applications. All of its products are manufactured on site in Kent, Ohio, using R2R processes. Dr. Albert Green of Kent Displays observes that “R2R manufacturing of displays is the holy grail of the display industry, and we’re happy to be a pioneer in that space, along with Bahman Taheri and Alpha Micron.”57 He underscores the fact that whereas a conventional LCD manufacturing plant costs $1 billion or more, the Kent Displays facility was built with a capital investment of several million dollars.
56 Bahman Taheri, “Manufacturing of Curved Liquid Crystal Devices,” in National Research Council, Building the Ohio Innovation Economy, 125.
57 Albert Green, “Roll-to-Roll Manufacturing of Flexible Displays,” in National Research Council, Building the Ohio Innovation Economy: Summary of a Symposium (Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. 2013.)
TABLE 7-5 Core Competencies in the FlexMatters Cluster
|Technology and innovation||
|Talent and intellectual capital||
|Commercialized and near-commercialized products and components||
SOURCE: NorTech, FlexMatters Strategic Roadmap, 2010, 26; Interviews in Kent, Cleveland and Akron, Ohio, June 4-5, 2013.
Kent Displays products include the Boogie Board, an e-writing tablet utilizing a flexible display with the feel of paper that allows the user to make notes using a stylus, finger, or any nonsharp object, with the writing and other images fully erasable. The company has also developed Reflex LCD Electronic Skins, which are ultra-thin, durable, single-pixel displays that can be cut to custom shape and conformed to a personal electronic device, with no power required from the host device to retain a displayed color image virtually indefinitely.58 Kent Displays acknowledges the important role played in its growth by financial support from the Ohio Third Frontier program.59
Alpha Micron was founded by faculty members from Kent State University’s Liquid Crystal Display Institute. The company received early-stage financing
58 Interview with Kent Displays, Kent, Ohio, June 4, 2013; Albert Green, Kent Displays, “Roll-to-Roll Manufacturing of Flexible Displays,” in National Research Council, Building the Ohio Innovation Economy, 122–124.
59 “Colorful Skin: Kent Displays Nears Full Production of Cholestoric LCD Products,” Printed Electronics Now, June 2009.
through federal SBIR grants and 6.1 and 6.2 military funding, followed by support from the Ohio Third Frontier program. The company has developed proprietary technology for transmissive LCD systems that control light as it passes through them: “Nobody in the world can put liquid crystals on curved surfaces by thermoforming without going through our patents.”60 The company is developing eyewear for U.S. special forces to enable them to go in and out of buildings without changing glasses and for Navy jet pilots who fly in and out of clouds and need to adjust the light-filtering qualities of their helmet eyewear. The company has also developed consumer products such as eyewear for skiers, auto-dimming mirrors for cars, and windows.61
Valtronic, based in Solon, Ohio, is a medium-sized company with branches in Europe that develops and manufactures flexible and semi-flexible electronic sensors and medical devices. Valtronic has identified applications in which the flexible form of a device adds real value. Its “caretaker” product is a band aid–like strip that can be worn on a finger that can detect not only blood pressure, heart rate, and respiration, but also the existence of internal hemorrhaging—making it valuable to first responders and the military. Valtronic has 21 new devices in clinical trials including a glucose measuring device that would obviate the need for finger prick blood tests for diabetics; “smart implants” that indicate months or years in advance whether the human subject will develop a medical condition; a wireless pacemaker that does not need battery replacement; and flexible retinal implants for the blind.62
Crystal Diagnostics in Kent, Ohio, was formed by professors from Kent State University and Northeast Ohio Medical University. The company uses liquid crystal technology to detect pathogens through a mechanical process that is much faster and lower cost than traditional methods based on biological sampling. It received assistance in acquiring equipment from the Ohio Third Frontier program. The company’s technology is enabling development of small and relatively inexpensive detectors that can be used in applications such as medicine, bio-defense, food safety, and water quality.63
Akron Polymer Systems is a spinoff from the University of Akron that specializes in the synthesis of polymers for demanding applications. It provides custom polymer development for many uses including high-performance aerospace applications, flexible displays, and organic photovoltaics.
Leadership: NorTech collaborated with a core group of universities and companies to organize FlexMatters into a recognizable, place-based, emerging industry that attracts organizational members, public and private investors, and
60 Interview with Alpha Micron, Kent, Ohio, June 4, 2013; Bahman Taheri, “Manufacturing of Curved Liquid Crystal Devices,” in National Research Council, Building the Ohio Innovation Economy, 124–125.
61 Bahman Taheri, op. cit.
62 Interview with Valtronic, Solon, Ohio, June 5, 2013.
63 Interview with Crystal Diagnostics, Kent, Ohio, June 4, 2013.
specialized talent. The 70 organizational members (and growing) are represented by a 15-member advisory committee consisting of academic and industry participants from the cluster. The committee meets on a quarterly basis to provide feedback and guidance to NorTech on how to provide the highest value to the FlexMatters cluster with the objectives of accelerating cluster growth and contributing to the revitalization of northeast Ohio’s economy. The committee also served as the working group for the FlexMatters Strategic Roadmap.
Many U.S. universities are engaged in basic and applied research in thematic areas relevant to flexible electronics and are generating a steady stream of new discoveries. U.S. universities have been a prolific source of spinoffs commercializing academic discoveries in flexible, printed, and organic electronics. (See Tables 7-6 and 7-7.)
Although most of these research achievements are attributable to individual universities, a number of multi-university collaborations have reported discoveries in thermatic areas relevant to flexible electronics.64
- Harvard is pioneering the 3-D printing of rechargeable lithium ion microbatteries as small as a single grain of sand, 1,000 times smaller than the smallest commercially available microbatteries, with potential applications in biomedical devices, micro-UAVs (drones), and “smart dust” (distributed sensor arrays). In 2013 Harvard’s achievements in this area won the annual “Academic R&D Award” from the consultancy IDTechEx.65
- MIT engineers report creation of a new polymer film that can generate electricity from water vapor, changing its shape by curling up or down after absorbing miniscule amounts of evaporated water. Potential applications include harnessing this motion to power micro- and
64 Stanford and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln recently jointly reported development of thin, transparent semiconductors that could provide the basis for inexpensive displays utilizing flexible plastic substrates. The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the University of Central Florida in Orlando jointly reported the discovery of a technique to create large sheets of nanotextured silicon microcell arrays that could be employed to create lightweight, bendable, efficient solar cells. “Universities of Illinois and Central Florida Develop Way to Make Solar Cells Thin, Efficient and Flexible,” “Stanford and UNL Engineers Make World’s Fastest Organic Transistor,” Flexible Substrate, January 2014.
65 “IDTech Ex Names Top Printed Electronics Developments of 2013,” Flexible Substrate, December 2013; “Printing Batteries,” MIT Technology Review, November 25, 2013. A team led by Harvard materials scientist Jennifer Lewis has developed an array of “functional inks” that can solidify into batteries, electrodes, wires, and antennae, as well as nozzles and extrudes that squeeze out batteries and other components from a 3-D printer. This technology works at room temperature, and the materials can be printed on plastic. “Harvard Uses 3D Printing on Lithium-ion Technology,” Flexible Substrate, December 2013.
TABLE 7-6 Flexible Electronics—Spinoffs from U.S. Universities
|MIT Media Lab||E Ink||Electronic paper|
|U. Cal Berkeley||Imprint Energy||Flexible batteries|
|U. Illinois||MC10||Stretchable electronics|
|UCLA||Aneeve Nanotechnologies||Printed electronics using carbon nanotubes|
|MIT||Cambrios||Silver nanowires for touch screens|
|Kent State||Kent Displays||Flexible displays for consumer applications|
|Kent State||Alpha Micron||Transmissive LCD systems|
|U. Akron||Akron Polymer Systems||Polymers for flexible displays and organic photovoltaics|
|NYU||Tectonic Technologies||Large area multitouch sensors|
nanoelectronic devices and controlling small robotic limbs. On a larger scale the technology could be embedded in clothing, harnessing evaporated perspiration to provide power for devices such as physiological monitoring sensors. Placed above a lake or river, the technology could be used for large-scale electricity generation.66
- Georgia Tech’s Center for Organic Photonics and Electronics (COPE) won the 2012 Academic R&D Award from the consultancy IDTechEx for discovery of a universal technique for reducing the work function of organic electronics conductors, using a polymer modifier containing simple alphatic amine function groups. The modifiers are effective for a broad range of conductors, including graphene and conducting polymers, and are inexpensive, environmentally friendly, and compatible with R2R mass production techniques. Applications exist in OLEDs, organic solar cells, and organic thin-film transistors.67
- Stanford engineers reportedly have combined layers of flexible electronics and pressure sensors to create a wearable heart monitor that is thinner than a dollar bill. The monitors have potential to enable doctors to detect stiff arteries and other cardiovascular problems and to monitor safely key vital signs for newborn babies and high-risk surgery patients. Stanford researchers are working to make these devices completely
66 “Acrobatic Polymer Film Developed at MIT Harvests Energy from Water Vapor,” Flexible Substrate, February 2013.
67 “IDTechEx Printed Electronics USA 2012 Award Winners,” <http://www.idtechex.com/research/articles/idtechex-printed-electronics-usa-2012-award-winners-00004993.asp>.
TABLE 7-7 U.S. University Research Achievements, Flexible and Printed Electronics— 2013
|MIT||New photovoltaic cell based on graphene sheet; one-molecule-thick material for ultrathin flexible solar cells and LEDs|
|Rice||Seamless graphene/hybrid electrode interface; nearly transparent films of conductive carbon nanotubes; inorganic flexible thin-film solar cell fabricated by solution processes|
|Princeton||Triple the efficiency of organic solar cells|
|U. Delaware||Stretchable power source for stretchable devices|
|Stanford||First all-carbon solar cell; carbon nanotube circuits|
|Penn State||Optical fiber for curved or twisted solar fabrics|
|North Carolina State||Elastic wires that reconnect when severed, silver nanowires for wearable sensors|
|Western Michigan U.||Etchant material for patterning indium tin oxide|
|UCLA||Stretchable polymer OLEDs, stretchable, foldable transparent electronic displays|
|Georgia Tech||Interfaces in organic solar cells; graphene structures suitable for room-temperature electronics|
|U. Buffalo||PV cells for application in liquid form|
|Harvard||New photonic fiber that changes color when stretched|
|UC Berkeley||Deposition over large areas for flexible medical applications, user-interactive sensor network on flexible plastic (“e-skin”), printed MEMs using metal inks; printing process for wall-sized displays, printed transistors on paper substrates|
|U. Illinois||Compound semiconductor nanowires grown on graphene sheet; stick-on electronic patches for health monitoring|
|Ohio State||1-atom thick germanium sheets for electronics|
|U. Michigan||Stretchable conductors utilizing gold nanoparticles; organic vapor jet printing enabling precise patterning of organic electronic devices|
|Purdue||Hybrid silver-graphene electrode for applications in flexible displays|
|Northwestern||Graphene-based conductive ink for flexible electronic applications|
|Stanford||Wearable, skin-like flexible heart monitor|
|U. of Pennsylvania||Computer model for designing flexible touch screens|
|UC Santa Barbara||Seamless ICs etched on graphene|
|New Jersey Inst. Tech.||Flexible battery made with carbon nanotubes|
|U. of Houston||Gold nanomesh stretchable, transparent conductor|
|U. of Texas Austin||2-D grapheme analogues for flexible solid-state thin-film supercapacitators|
|U. Pittsburgh||Polymers that move in response to light|
|NJIT||Flexible battery made of carbon nanotubes|
|Carnegie-Mellon||Energy-harvesting from user interaction with paper-like materials|
SOURCE: Flexible Substrate (January, February, May, August, October, November, December 2013; January, March, April 2014).
wireless, with the expectation that doctors will be able to receive a patient’s minute-by-minute heart status via a cell phone.68
- University of California (UC) Berkeley reports development of “electronic skin,” a user-interactive sensor network on flexible plastic that responds to touch by lighting up, with the degree of emitted light increasing with the intensification of pressure. Potential applications include robots with increased touch-sensitivity, wallpaper that doubles as a touch screen display, and dashboard laminates that enable drivers to adjust electronic controls by waving hands.69
- Queens University in Canada has collaborated with Intel and Plastic Logic to develop a flexible “PaperTab” display, which developers believe could replace paper altogether. Intel has also expressed the view that this technology could replace conventional displays entirely. Devices incorporating PaperTab could reportedly be virtually unbreakable and as thin as a piece of paper. PaperTab supposedly can file and display thousands of paper documents obviating the need for a computer monitor and stacks of paper or printouts. Users would have 10 or more interactive displays (“PaperTabs”), each representing a different application.70
Research centers. Several universities have full-scale research centers devoted to flexible electronics–related topics such as R2R and printed electronics manufacturing.
Georgia Tech Center for Organic Photonics and Electronics (COPE), founded in 2003, is an R&D and educational center developing flexible organic photonic and electronic materials and devices with applications in IT, telecommunications, energy, and defense. COPE receives financial support from DOD (ARL, DARPA and ONR), DOE, and NSF.71 Its industrial affiliates include a number of leading European firms including Novaled, Plastic Electronics, Solvay, and Beneq, as well as U.S. firms such as Boeing, Plextronics, and NextInput.72 Dr. Bernard Kippelen, COPE’s Director, has focused on the interdisciplinary character of COPE’s research and has emphasized develop-
68 “Stanford Engineers Monitor Heart Health Using Paper-Thin Flexible Skin,” Flexible Substrate, August 2013.
69 “UC Berkeley E-Skin Responds to Touch with Promise for Sensory Robotics and Interactive Environments,” Flexible Substrate, August 2013.
70 “Intel, Plastic Logic and Queen’s University Reveal Bendable ‘PaperTab’ Display,” Flexible Substrate, February 2013.
72 COPE and Solvay began joint development of OLED technology in 2006, based on Georgia Tech’s development of a unique material platform for OLEDs that could be deposited over large areas using inkjet printing and standard photolithography. The university’s researchers discovered that exposing the material to ultraviolet light produces hardened materials that are insoluble and maintain stability at high temperatures. “Georgia Tech and Solvay Announce $3M Deal for OLED Research,” Eurekalert, April 26, 2006.
ment of low-cost organic photovoltaics with progressively improving efficiency levels.73 In 2012 COPE announced a “game-changing” innovation, the creation of the world’s first plastic solar cell utilizing “inexpensive, environmentally friendly, easy-to-access materials compatible with existing R2R manufacturing processes.74
The Center for Advanced Microelectronics Manufacturing (CAMM) is an R&D center established at Binghamton University with the university’s partners, Cornell, the FlexTech Alliance, and Endicott International Technologies. CAMM is part of the New York State Center of Excellence in Small Scale Systems Integration and Packaging. It received $12 million worth of equipment from the U.S. Display Consortium when it started operations. CAMM is engaged in demonstrating the feasibility of roll-to-roll electronics manufacturing by acquiring prototype tools and establishing production processes.
The Center for the Advancement of Printed Electronics (CAPE), located at Western Michigan University (WMU), is a collaboration that includes the university, Corning, Amway, Daetwyler R&D, and Neenah Paper Inc.75 CAPE is a facility for R&D in materials used in the fabrication of flexible electronics devices through printing processes. CAPE draws upon cross-departmental faculty competencies and the university’s pilot plant facilities to advance its research agenda.76 Reflecting WMU’s historic strengths in paper and printing innovation, CAPE is seeking to leverage its extensive embedded base of printing systems (including rotogravure, flexo, and inkjet) to develop multiple, inexpensive techniques for printing electronic devices.77
Sonoco Institute of Packaging Design & Graphics. The Sonoco Packaging Institute was established at Clemson University in 2009 to develop packaging design technology, a mission that is attending to the development of printed electronics packaging with applications such as smart packaging and the interaction
73 “A Look at Printed Electronics: Printed Electronics Now Interview with Dr. Bernard Kippelen,” Printed Electronics Now, July, 2011. Reporting on development of a new polymer with promise for encapsulation of metal conductors, Dr. Kippelen attributed the achievement in substantial part to input from “colleagues from Georgia Tech’s Chemistry and Physics Department, who see much potential.” “COPE Breakthrough May Simplify PE Manufacturing,” Printed Electronics Now, April 2012.
74 “New Technique Creates First Plastic Solar Cell,” Forbes, April 25, 2012.
75 Daetwyler R&D Corporation, renamed Ohio Gravure Technologies Inc. in 2011, is a partner in Western Michigan University’s recently established Center for Advancement of Printed Electronics. The company is an engineering and software enterprise that has provided sophisticated technology to the gravure printing industry for 30 years. Ohio Gravure’s engineering specialties are submicron positional cutting tools, pre-press layout software, and upgrading older printing equipment. Ohio Gravure designed and built the Star MicroEngraving system for optics and printed electronics applications. “WMU, Daetwyler R&D Announce Partnership in PE,” Printed Electronics Now, November 25, 2009; “Daetwyler R&D Corp is Now Ohio Gravure Technologies Inc.,” Printed Electronics Now, October 12, 2011.
76 “WMU’s CAPE Plays Key Role in Integrating PE, Printing,” Printed Electronics Now, December 22, 2009.
of packaging with retail environments. Clemson University has a long background in developing and teaching printing and packaging technology and deep relationships in the traditional printing industry and supply chains as well as with end users.78 It has been applying its expertise in flexographing printing to the printing of conductive inks suitable for RFID and other applications.79 In 2013, the Sonoco Packaging Institute and PARC won an award from the FlexTech Alliance to develop technology to scale up and print functional devices using a commercial printing press.80
Many blue-chip U.S. companies are engaged in R&D related to flexible electronics themes, and U.S.-based firms are among the most important suppliers of process technology and specialized materials to the emerging global industries. With respect to applications, a number of startup firms have begun to commercialize niche products, but in general major U.S. companies have not yet invested in the commercialization of high-volume, mainstream consumer products based on flexible electronics technology.
HP is the world’s largest PC maker and produces a broad range of information technology equipment, software, and services. Most of HP’s information products incorporate displays, and for a number of years the company’s central R&D division, the Information Surfaces Lab, has been pursuing device and process technologies to facilitate the replacement of glass-based displays with plastic displays, including bendable variants that can be produced with R2R processes.81 HP has collaborated with the ASU Flexible Display Center in the development of e-paper and plastic displays, although in 2010 the company indicated that
78 In 2008, Printed Electronics Now reported that “at Clemson University, in Clemson, SC, USA, researchers from several different departments have been at work developing conductive polymer ink systems, work that has resulted in the filing of US patents. According to Jay Sperry, of the Department of Graphic Communications, the university is in a position to collaborate with advanced materials and engineering technologies to bring package printing and display to a level that involves many projects including organic light emitting displays. This work has attracted allied packaging industries and some large consumer product companies.” “A New Industry Shapes the Future of Printing,” Printed Electronics Now, December 2008.
79 “Clemson and Industry Backers Focus on Printed Electronics,” Printed Electronics Now, January 2009; “Clemson’s Sonoco Institute Offers Opportunities for PE,” Printed Electronics Now, September 2010; “FlexTech Alliance Awards Clemson University with Contract to Benchmark Inks and Processes for PE Components,” Printed Electronics Now, July 22, 2010.
80 “Clemson University, PARC Receive Award from FlexTech Alliance to Transfer Functional Printing from Laboratory to Commercial Scale,” Printed Electronics Now, January 7, 2013.
81 Presentation of Dr. Carl Taussig, Director, HP Information Surfaces Lab, “Plastic Display Research at HP,” 2011; “Inexpensive, Unbreakable Displays,” MIT Technology Review, June 22, 2010.
its principal objective was to make displays that are thinner and lighter, rather than rollable or bendable, because the emerging technologies could not survive more than a few bends.82 HP pioneered the development of self-aligned imprint lithography (SAIL) with PowerFilm Solar, a process for forming thin-film electronics on flexible substrates in an R2R production line.83 It is currently working to upgrade SAIL to enable production of large, flexible OLED backplanes.84
Universal Display Corporation
Founded in 1994, Universal Display Corporation (UDC) is a world leader in the development of OLED technologies and materials. UDC currently owns or holds exclusive licenses and sublicenses for more than 3,000 patents issued or pending globally. UDC is the world’s leading supplier of phosphorescent emitter materials to OLED product manufacturers. Most manufacturers of displays and lighting products that actually or potentially source UDC technologies and materials are based outside the United States, particularly in East Asia. UDC has research partnerships with USC, Princeton, and the University of Michigan, and its R&D efforts are supported by funding from the U.S. Army and the DOE.85 UDC’s OLED screens are used in Samsung’s Galaxy series smartphones, and in 2012 UDC derived 68 percent of its consolidated revenues from sales to Samsung Display Co., Ltd.86 All of UDC’s proprietary OLED materials are manufactured by Pittsburgh-based PPG Industries, a major producer of coatings, chemicals, glass, and other specialty materials.87 In 2013, UDC and PPG opened a new world-class OLED materials production facility in Ohio that will concentrate on UDC’s phosphorescent OLED materials (“UniversalPHOLED”).88
82 “HP Flexible Display Unfurled on Video,” Engadget, March 20, 2010. In 2010 HP’s Chief Technology Officer, Phil McKinney, demonstrated a flexible display printed on mylar film that could be rolled up. McKinney noted that such displays could be printed with no size limit and joked of rooms wall-papered with digital displays. However, McKinney also pointed out kinks in the mylar that damaged the display, so that “first-generation versions of these flexible displays won’t be as mobile as fruit-by-the-foot rolls that fit in your pocket.” “Phil McKinney on Device Evolution and Flexible Displays,” San Francisco Examiner, July 17, 2010.
83 “Volume Production Necessary for Flexible Electronics,” Solid State Technology, February 26, 2007.
84 “Upgrading Self-Aligned Imprint Lithography (SAIL) in Preparation for Roll-to-Roll Manufacturing,” Flexible Substrate, November 2013.
85 UDC Form 10-K, February 27, 2013, 3–6.
86 Ibid. 6.
87 Ibid. 22.
88 “PPG Expands OLED Production to Support Demand for OLED Display Products,” Flexible Substrate, December 2013.
E.I. du Pont de Nemours and Company was perhaps the preeminent corporate pioneer of systematic R&D for the purpose of generating a continuous stream of new products and processes.89 Once heavily concentrated on the development of petroleum-based chemical products, it is making a strategic shift into green technologies based on plants and other renewable resources.90 Various DuPont business units are developing materials and process technologies with applications in flexible electronics.
- DuPont Teijin Films, a joint venture between DuPont and Japan’s Teijin Limited, develops PET films for applications in plastic electronics and Teonex, a PEN film for applications in flexible displays involving potential exposure to extreme heat and/or harsh chemicals.91 DuPont Teijin is participating in the EU’s Clean4Yield R&D project headed by the Netherlands’ Holst Centre and is reportedly developing a new “Clean-on-Demand” PET polyester film that could improve yields and reduce costs for R2R manufacturing of flexible electronics.92
- DuPont Microcircuit Materials, which develops materials for microelectronic, photovoltaic, automotive, and consumer electronic applications, is developing and demonstrating R2R processes such as photonic curing, a thermal processing technique that enables printing of circuits on flexible substrates such as paper and plastic film that are normally vulnerable to high temperatures.93 In 2011 DuPont Microcircuit Materials announced a collaboration with the Holst Centre in the Netherlands to develop technology for printed metallic structures on flexible substrates for applications in displays, lighting, RFID, biomedicine, and photovoltaics.94
- DuPont Displays, which develops materials and processes for displays, has developed solution printing process technology for high-performance OLED displays that seeks to eliminate capital-intensive processing and
89 Alfred D. Chandler, Jr., Scale and Scope: The Dynamics of Industrial Capitalism (Cambridge and London: Harvard University Press, 1990), 181–193.
90 “DuPont Sees Green in Cleaning Up Its Act,” The Hamilton Spectator, October 11, 2006; “DuPont Expands Renewable Polymer Portfolio,” Chemical Week, October 31, 2007; “DuPont Focus on Plant Genetics,” Zecks.com, March 20, 2010; “Developing Technology to Meet Market Needs is DuPont’s Priority,” Supply Chains, January 21, 2008.
91 “DuPont Displays Eye-Catching Material Innovations of SID,” Display Central, June 8, 2012.
92 “DuPont Teijin Films Develops ‘Clean-on-Demand’ Film for Roll-to-Roll Flexible Electronics,” Flexible Substrate, December 2013.
93 “Advances in Conductive Inks,” Flexible Substrate, August 2013.
94 “DuPont Microcircuit Materials Expands Printed Electronics Research with Holst Centre Collaboration,” Holst Centre Press Release, February 16, 2011.
reduce operating costs. DuPont has licensed this technology to at least one leading Asian OLED display manufacturer.95
At a 2009 National Academies symposium on the future of photovoltaic manufacturing in the United States, Dr. Stephen C. Freilich of DuPont outlined some of the R&D challenges facing DuPont in the area of thin-film photovoltaics on flexible substrates. Noting that his laboratory was developing flexible, durable, waterproof, polymer front-sheets for thin films that, “from a polymer perspective [was] essentially unheard of,” he emphasized the vital importance of collaboration with university and/or national laboratory partners:
We recognize that while we have a strong and vital research facility ourselves, we cannot possibly have all of the best people in the field. So we have to reach out to our industrial partners as well as the national laboratories and universities.96
Corning is a maker of glass, ceramics, and related materials, primarily for scientific and specialized industrial applications. It has developed Corning Willow Glass, a thin, flexible glass that has multiple applications in flexible electronics, including touch screens, flexible solar cells, smartphones, tablets, and other types of displays. Using a research grant from the FlexTech Alliance, Corning recently collaborated with other organizations to demonstrate the compatibility of flexible glass with R2R production techniques and the printing of organic photovoltaic devices.97 The U.S. government’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory has reportedly built flexible solar cells out of Willow Glass that are sufficiently durable to eventually replace roofing shingles.98 In addition to the development of glass with flexible electronics applications, Corning is pursuing other relevant research themes, such as the use of high-performance graphene field effect transistors on flexible substrates.99
95 “Role of Solution Processing in the Future of OLED TVs,” Flexible Substrate, February 2013.
96 Dr. Stephen C. Freilich, “DuPont Reflections on Photovoltaics,” in National Research Council, The Future of Photovoltaic Manufacturing in the United States (Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2011), 67–68.
97 “Top Flexible Electronics Developments Win 2013 FLEXI Awards,” Flexible Substrate, February 2013.
98 “Corning Willow Glass Used to Make Flexible Solar Power Roofing Shingles, Could Lower the Cost of Solar Power Significantly,” ExtremeTech, July 3, 2013.
99 “Printed Graphene Transistors Promise High-Speed Wireless Communications,” OSA Direct, August 21, 2013. This research is being undertaken in collaboration with 3M and the University of Texas (ibid.).
Palo Alto Research Center (PARC)
PARC, formed in 1970 as a research arm of Xerox Corporation, has a long history of pioneering innovations in the computer field, and PARC first suggested the concept of a flexible display. At the 2010 symposium convened for this project, PARC’s Ross Bringans noted the destabilizing, revolutionary potential of flexible electronics but observed that “applications will drive the technology” and that the development of applications was “the big missing piece in the U.S.”100 In 2013 PARC joined with DoE’s ARPA-E agency and the Berkeley Lab in a collaboration to develop manufacturing processes for printed lithium ion batteries.101 PARC has been vocal in articulating the scale of the competitive challenge facing the United States in flexible electronics from abroad. In a 2009 National Academies symposium, PARC’s Dr. Bob Street made a presentation on the R&D aspects of flexible electronics, noting in particular the importance of materials science and of U.S. leadership in that field. He observed that in Asia, displays are not only a major industry, but are supported by
a whole ecosystem of equipment manufacturers, materials suppliers, and a stream of new technology that is being created in universities and research centers around the world. Because the industry in Asia is so big, it draws in new technology . . . from the Palo Alto center, from universities, from start-ups. And they have the manufacturing power. . . . I think this country needs to take this funnel of research and technology that is presently directed toward Asia and move it back into the United States and ensure that we have an industry here that can be the manufacturing focus for the new technology.102
Polyera is an Illinois-based maker of functional inks for printed electronics applications. Polyera was spun off from Northwestern University in 2005 to commercialize nanomaterials developed by Professor Tobin Marks, a recipient of the U.S. Medal of Science in 2006, and by Dr. Antonio Facchetti, a Research Professor at Northwestern University, later CEO of Polyera.103 Polyera engages industrial partners in co-development projects in which it takes the lead in materials design and ink formation for devices with applications in organic transistors, photovoltaics, and circuitry. In 2011 Polyera entered a partnership with Thin Film Electronics ASA of Norway to co-develop gravure-based inks for use in
100 Ross Bringans, PARC, “Challenges and Opportunities for the Flexible Electronics Industry,” September 24, 2010.
101 “PARC Launches Printed Battery Project,” Flexible Substrate, August 2013.
102 Dr. Bob Street, “Flexible Electronics,” in National Research Council, Future of Photovoltaic Manufacturing, 113–114.
103 “Honey I Shrunk the Technology … NU Making a Big Difference in the World of Nanotech,” Chicago Sun-Times, August 13, 2007.
high-throughput printing.104 Polyera collaborated with the European chemical group Solvay and Belgium’s IMEC to achieve a world-record efficiency level for organic solar cells in 2011.105 Polyera develops new materials at R&D facilities in Illinois, while a subsidiary in Taiwan performs “formulation fine-tuning for large area deposition, device prototype fabrication, and customer support.”106
Xenon is a 50-year-old company based in Massachusetts that makes pulsed ultraviolet (UV) light equipment for a broad range of industrial uses ranging from curing to decontamination. Xenon flash lamps represent a low-temperature method for sintering functional inks in the manufacture of printed circuits at high speeds on paper, plastic, and other thin-film substrates. Xenon President and CEO Lou Paniro said in a 2013 interview that Xenon’s first sales of production equipment for printed electronics had been to buyers in the United States for the manufacture of RFIDs and certain circuits and that
based on these initial success stories, we feel both North American and European manufacturers can compete with the typically more aggressive Asian suppliers. Asian markets may work towards the high volume production but Western nations have invested heavily in the development of PE and there is bound to be significant growth even if it is on a high cost, low volume, highly custom applications.107
Xenon was the driving force behind the formation of the Printed Electronics Test Center Network, a global consortium of universities, manufacturers, and integrators who make their research facilities available to researchers and product developers to test ideas and processes in printed electronics.108
Cambrios Technologies Corporation
Cambrios was formed to commercialize technology for transparent conductors developed at MIT by Drs. Angela Belcher and Evelyn Hu. Cambrios has developed ClearOhm, a silver nanowire-based technology with touchscreen
104 Thin Film Electronics’ CEO commented that “Polyera’s groundbreaking work on n-type organic transistors has paved the way for printed CMOS circuits—more energy efficient logic circuitry with simpler design.” “Plastic Memory Firm Partners with Organic Ink Startup,” EETimes Europe, December 1, 2011.
105 “IMEC, Polyera and Solvay Set 8.3% Efficiency Record for Organic Solar,” EETimes Europe, December 15, 2011. Solvay undertook a “strategic minority investment” in Polyera. “Corporate Spotlight Interview: Jordi Lopez Launes, Investment Manager, Solvay Corporate Venturing, Clean Technologies and Sustainable Industries Organization, December 12, 2012.
106 “Startups in Materials: An Interview with Antonio Facchetti,” Materials Views, February 5, 2013.
107 “Interview with Lou Paniro and Saad Ahmed from Zenon Corporation,” Flexible Substrate, November 2013.
108 “Xenon Launches Worldwide PE Test Center Network to Help Drive Commercialization of Printed Electronics Industry,” Printed Electronics Now, May 1, 2012.
applications. A number of companies, including 3M, have adopted ClearOhm because it enables, among other things, the efficient manufacturing of touch-enabled displays with curved or wrapped bezels.109 ClearOhm won the 2012 Best Product Development Award at the annual meeting convened by the consultancy IDTechEx, Printed Electronics USA, and it was noted that ClearOhm is beginning to replace indium tin oxide (ITO) in touch screens, high-performance OLEDs, and photovoltaics devices.110
American Semiconductor is a Boise-based provider of semiconductor foundry services. It offers onshore fabrication services for flexible integrated circuits and flexible hybrid systems. It has received funding from the DoD to produce semiconductor devices to DoD specifications.111 In 2013 American Semiconductor announced the FleX-MCU product line, featuring flexible microcontrollers fabricated through a proprietary silicon-on-polymer process. The company’s roadmap envisions eventual development of flexible analog-to-digital converters, radio frequency wireless communications, and nonvolatile memory devices.112
MC10 was established in 2008 to commercialize the research of Professor John Rogers of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in stretchable electronics. The company is developing flexible electronic medical, consumer, industrial, and defense products designed to conform to the human body. The company has secured several rounds of equity funding and retained former Motorola executive Sanjay Gupta as Vice President for Product Development. Together with Reebok’s Advanced Products Group, MC10 developed its first commercial product, a thin mesh skullcap that fits under sports helmets and signals impacts to the head. Other products reportedly in the pipeline include sensors for monitoring heart rate, brain activity, muscle function, body temperature, and hydration.113
110 “How an Abalone Shell Turned MIT’s Angela Belcher into One of the World’s Leading Scientists,” Bostinno, November 6, 2013. “Printed Electronics USA 2012 Awards Recognize New Developments,” Flexible Substrate, January 2013; “Cambrios Partners with Novaled to Produce OLED Lighting Tile with New Highly Transparent Electrodes,” Flexible Substrate, May 2013.
111 “United States: Defense Money Goes to Idaho Projects,” TendersInfo, December 18, 2009.
112 “American Semiconductor Releases Industry’s First Physically Flexible Microcontroller,” Flexible Substrate, August 2013.
113 “MC10: Reshaping Electronics,” Flexible Substrate, September 2012; “Stretchable Electronics Maker Raises $19.8M,” Boston Business Journal, December 27, 2013; “Stretchable Electronics Enable Minimally-Invasive Cardiac Electrophysiological Sensing and Actuations,” Flexible Substrate, January 2014.
MC10 is reportedly working with Korea’s Seoul National University to develop a flexible electronic skin patch with starch gauges to monitor tremors and heating elements to release drugs held inside nanoparticles.114
Microlink Devices Inc.
Microlink Devices, based in Illinois, specializes in metalorganic vapor deposition of semiconductor structures for wireless communications applications and the fabrication of solar cells for applications in space and unmanned aerial vehicles, as well as terrestrial uses. Microlink Devices produces solar sheets for UAVs, which are flexible and conform to curved surfaces.115 These sheets are being used to generate power for drones that substantially enhances their performance and may eventually facilitate flights that last for days or even weeks.116
Soligie is a Minnesota-based provider of design and manufacturing services for printed electronics, serving the industry in a manner analogous to that of a semiconductor foundry in microelectronics. Soligie was established in 2005 as a wholly owned subsidiary of Taylor Corp., a holding company with about 100 subsidiaries operating in niche markets in printing and media.117 The company serves clients developing flexible electronics products with medical, security and logistics, and military applications.118 In 2010 Soligie entered into an agreement with PARC to co-develop printed electronics products for the RFID, smart packaging, medical, and flexible interconnect markets.119 In 2011 it introduced a sheetfed, flatbed screen printing line to accommodate clients with low-to-medium manufacturing volume needs.120 In 2013 Soligie received two awards from the FlexTech Alliance to advance printed electronics manufacturing R&D and to establish project demonstrators in 2014.121
114 “Seoul National University Develops Bandage that Senses Tremors and Delivers Drugs,” Flexible Substrate, April 2014.
115 “Flexible Materials and Devices for Advanced Power,” Flexible Substrate, May 2013.
116 “On a Bright New Wing,” The Economist, September 7, 2013.
117 “Soligie (Taylor Corp.) Progresses Co-deposition of Printed Electronics Components,” PIworld, September 2008.
119 “PARC’s Partnerships with Thinfilm, Soligie Hold Much Promise for PE,” Printed Electronics Now, December 2010.
120 “Soligie Enhances Printed Electronics Manufacturing Capabilities with Sheetfed, Flatbed Screen Printing Line,” Printed Electronics Now, April 7, 2011.
121 “Soligie Receives Two R&D Awards from FlexTech Alliance,” Flexible Substrate, December 2013.
Imprint Energy is a startup founded by two Ph.D. students in 2010 to commercialize research developed at the University of California at Berkeley. Imprint manufactures paper-thin, bendable batteries based on zinc rather than lithium through a printing process, with applications in wearable consumer products. Imprint has received seed funding from Dow Chemical and the CIA’s venture fund, In-Q-Tel.122
3M is a Minnesota-based multinational that develops and produces a broad range of industrial and consumer products including electronic materials and circuits and optical films. The company has numerous areas of interest related to flexible and printed electronics technologies, including touchscreens, RFID, and displays. 3M has invested in a number of companies developing flexible electronics technologies, including Germany’s Printechnologies GmbH (data memory and battery systems produced on paper), txtr GmbH (e-readers), and motionID technologies AG (RFID).123 In 2012 3M introduced its FTB3-50 and -125 films—flexible, transparent films that protect electronics from water vapor and oxidation.124 In 2013, 3M and Cambrios jointly introduced the proprietary 3M Patterned Silver Nanowire Film, comprised of silver nanowire conductive ink micropatterned on a polyester film substrate, for applications in touch sensors.125
Eastman Kodak Company
Through most of the 20th century Kodak was one of the leading imaging companies in the world and pioneered many of the technologies that are providing the foundation for the emergence of flexible electronics. Kodak developed and patented the original fluorescent OLED technology in 1987, and substantially all of its considerable OLED intellectual property was sold in 2009 to LG of Korea, which is now challenging Samsung for market leadership in consumer devices incorporating OLED displays.126 Kodak’s R2R printed electronics technology was transferred to Taiwan and has provided the underpinning for Taiwan’s emerging flexible electronics industry.127 Kodak filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 2012 and, following divestiture of most of its business operations
122 “A New Battery That Could Revolutionize Wearables,” Gigaom, January 8, 2013.
123 “Investments by 3M, Rusnano Show Interest in PE is Growing,” Printed Electronics Now, June 2011.
124 “3M Announces Commercial Availability of FTB3 Barrier Film,” Flexible Substrate, June 2012.
125 “Collaboration Produces Flexible Silver Nanowire Film for Touch Screens,” Printed Electronics World, December 20, 2013.
126 UDC 10-K, 15, 18.
127 See Chapter 6, infra.
and intellectual property, emerged from bankruptcy in 2013 as a much smaller technology company specializing in imaging for business.128 Kodak is currently collaborating with Kingsbury Corporation to produce touchscreen sensors using an R2R process. In 2014 Kodak and Xymox Technologies disclosed that as a result of a joint development effort, Kodak would commercialize a new highly conductive film (HCF) product, KODAK HCF-385 film, for use in capacitative touch sensors found in product packaging, signage, automotive displays, home appliances, machinery, and other applications.129
Kateeva, founded in 2008, is a Silicon Valley–based company developing inkjet printer technologies and equipment for printing flexible and large-scale OLED devices. Kateeva’s Chief Technology Officer, Steven Van Slyke, was a co-inventor of the original OLED at Kodak in 1987.130 In 2013, Kateeva introduced YIELDjet, an inkjet printing technology capable of producing flexible and large area OLED displays in high volume.131 Kateeva began collaborating with South Korea’s OLED Plus Co. Ltd., an OLED design and distribution company in 2011, and in January 2014 Kateeva acquired OLED Plus’ assets, launching “Kateeva Korea” as a wholly owned subsidiary.132 Kateeva, which has raised $75 million from venture capital firms and equipment makers Applied Materials and Veeco, believes that it has developed technology that will enable the mass production of much less expensive OLED displays than is currently feasible.133
IBM is a U.S.-based multinational with a long history of pioneering innovation in the computer and microelectronics industries. Although IBM is increasingly concentrating on the provision of information services and systems to large companies, it continues to perform R&D in microelectronics and related fields. In 2012 IBM demonstrated high-performance, state-of-the-art CMOS integrated circuits, including SRAM and ring oscillator devices, on flexible plastic substrates. IBM constructed the devices on silicon and utilized a low-cost, room-temperature
128 “New Kodak Comes into Focus After Bankruptcy,” Orlando Sentinel, September 4, 2013.
129 “Kodak Adds to Transparent Conductive Films Portfolio,” Printed Electronics World, April 29, 2014.
130 Van Slyke collaborated with Dr. Ching Tang, a professor of chemical engineering at the University of Rochester, to invent the OLED. “Organic Electroluminescent Diodes,” Applied Physics Letters, 1987.
131 “Kateeva Introduces YIELDjet,” Printed Electronics Now, November 27, 2013; “Kateeva Launches New Inkjet Print Tool to Bring Flexible OLEDs to Market,” Flexible Substrate, December 2003.
132 “Kateeva Expands Operations in Korea,” Printed Electronics Now, January 20, 2014.
133 “Kateeva Proposes Printing to Make Displays,” The Wall Street Journal, November 20, 2013.
process (“spalling”) to flake off the silicon substrate, while the devices were transferred to flexible plastic tape.134 IBM researchers recently demonstrated the use of a single layer of graphene as an OLED transparent electrode for use on flexible substrates with potential applications in lighting and displays.135
General Electric is a U.S.-based multinational corporation with widely diversified technology development and manufacturing operations, including fields in which flexible electronics will have applications, such as lighting, photovoltaics, and medical equipment. GE’s Electronics Materials Systems (EMS) Advanced Technology Program is pursuing research themes in flexible electronics, including the development of medical sensors, OLEDs, and the R2R manufacture of OLED-based lighting devices.136 In 2009, GE Global Research concluded an agreement with the firm Power Paper to jointly develop self-powered OLED lighting devices utilizing flexible thin-film batteries.137
Plextronics is a Pittsburgh-based developer and manufacturer of conductive polymers and inks for applications in organic electronics. It was spun out of Carnegie Mellon University in 2002 to commercialize technology developed by Dr. Richard McCullough. Its investors include Innovation Works, a state-sponsored development organization that invests in startups in southwestern Pennsylvania; Universal Display; Solvay; Applied Ventures (a subsidiary of Applied Materials); and private venture capital firms.138 Plextronics won a 3-year contract from the Army in 2007 to develop electronic maps and other devices for soldiers.139 Between 2002 and 2007 it raised $37 million in equity capital.140 Plextronics’ initial plan was to develop solar ink cells with photovoltaic applications, but as the price of competing silicon-based technologies fell, Plextronics transferred much of its activity to developing inks for OLED displays including flexible displays. But “Plextronics may have been too cutting edge for its own
134 “IBM Demos High-Performance CMOS on Flexible Plastic Substrates,” Flexible Substrate, November 2012.
135 “High Performance OLEDs on Graphene Electrode and Thin C-Si TFT for Flexible Display and Lighting,” Flexible Substrate, January 2014.
137 “Infinity Group Portfolio Company Power Paper and GE Collaborate,” Printed Electronics World, December 11, 2009.
139 “Plextronics Lands Deal with Army Research Lab,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, June 26, 2007.
140 “Plextronics Lands $21 Million to Fund Expansion, Marketing,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, August 31, 2007.
good,” with the result that the market did not develop at a pace sufficient to enable widespread adoption of Plextronics’ OLED technologies. The company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in early 2014.141
Novacentrix is an Austin, Texas-based maker of specialty tools and materials for printed electronics applications. The company’s proprietary Pulse Forge tools permit the application of thin films and functional inks at high temperatures on substrates without heating the latter, which are often sensitive to temperature extremes.142 Novacentrix also produces silver and aluminum nanopowders and conductive inks and provides contract functional print manufacturing services.143 In 2011 Novacentrix entered into a collaboration with DuPont Microcircuit Materials pursuant to which DuPont would use Pulse Forge tools to develop materials and processing technology for printed electronics.144 In 2013, Novacentrix established a long-term collaboration with the German Muhlbauer group to commercialize new RFID antenna manufacturing technology.145
141 “Local Tech Darling Files for Chapter 11,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, January 26, 2014.
142 The process “photonic curing” uses pulsed light from a flashlamp to heat films and inks in milliseconds, enabling their imprint on a substrate. K.A. Schroder, S.C. McCool, and W.F. Furlan, “Broadcast Photonic Curing of Metallic Nanoparticle Films,” NSTI-Nanotech 2006, ISBN 0-9767985-8-1 Vol. 3, 2006.
144 “DuPont MCM Advances PE Development Efforts by Employing Novacentrix Pulse Forge Tools,” Printed Electronics Now, August 15, 2011.
145 “Mulhbauer, Novacentrix Enter Long-Term Collaboration for Developing a Flexible and Cost Effective RFID Antenna Printing Technology,” Printed Electronics Now, April 26, 2013.