Plastic electronics –UK opportunities and actions

Future UK opportunity Supporting UK core strength / justification Action (s) required
Plastic electronics (PE)* enables circuits and devices to be printed or deposited onto a range of surfaces. This is leading to a whole new generation of innovative products and applications that need large areas and/or flexibility for market sectors such as automotive, healthcare, advertising and construction. The potential for manufacturing is huge – the global market for plastic electronics is forecast to grow over the next decade from £10 billion in 2013 (mainly OLED displays) to £48 billion in 2023.

New products will include large OLED and flexible displays; low cost conformable solar cells that can be integrated into buildings; intelligent packaging that provides protection against counterfeiting; and smart labels that record the storage history of a product, printed directly onto the packaging for added security and tamper resistance at a cost point that is suitable to consumer applications. And there are early opportunities in other non-traditional areas of electronics such as marketing fast moving consumer goods, where electronic labels can get consumers’ attention on a crowded shelf in a supermarket.

Science and Research Base

EPSRC and TSB have invested in a range of Centres of Excellence Between them, the different Centres cover the ability to design and develop proof-of-concept samples and early stage prototypes, and follow through with manufacturing process development to demonstrate robust, repeatable production of end-user ready devices.

Five of these centres deserve particular note as PE Centres of Excellence:

•    The Printable Electronics Centre at the Centre for Process Innovation, Sedgefield.

•    The Welsh Centre for Printing and Coating at Swansea

•    The Centre for Plastic Electronics (CPE) at Imperial College London

•    The Organic Materials Innovation Centre at the University of Manchester

•    The Cambridge Integrated Knowledge Centre

Business base

UK has strengths in most elements of the emerging supply chain including:

•    Materials, such as the light emitting polymers produced by CDT, organic semiconductors by Merck Chemicals, and flexible substrates produced by DuPont-Teijin Films

•    Processing and manufacturing equipment. UK has a range of specialist equipment suppliers, for example Plasma Quest’s thin-film deposition kit

•    Product design and integration, such as Plastic Logic’s flexible displays and Lifescan’s printed glucose sensors.

Exploiting science and research base

The UK has a world class science and research base in PE which has benefited from substantial support from EPSRC and TSB. It’s important that funding is continued. There are opportunities within Europe for funding collaborative project, for example there are €57m available for OLED and TOLAE projects in the first call of Horizon 2020. Priority actions:

•    Engage with Photonics21 & European Commission to ensure UK interests represented in Horizon 2020

•    Request PE demonstrator call from TSB

•    Encourage complementary and coherent offering by the PE Centres of Excellence

Connecting to markets

PE technology is fast developing but there is a gulf between suppliers and potential users. Application areas with greatest potential include sectors where UK has a strong global position eg aerospace, automotive and heathcare. Actions:

•    Organise KTN workshops to connect PE suppliers to user communities, including aerospace & automotive (working with the HVM Catapult), smart packaging and healthcare

•    Develop UKPE supply chain utilising opportunities in AMSCI and RGF initiatives

•    Work with UKTI to promote UK PE overseas, including inward and outward missions to target markets

•    Utilise the leadership role that the UK is taking on international standards to promote UK PE overseas

* also known as printed, organic and large area electronics, or as Thin, Organic & Large Area Electronics (TOLAE) in the latest EU Horizon 2020 programme

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Prepared by experts from the UK photonics community. This is the first in a series summarising future opportunities for all areas of UK Photonics. Based on aspects of the Photonics21 Multiannual Strategic Roadmap that are most relevant to the UK and expanded to include additional opportunities that are of particular relevance to the UK

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