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Electronics Production | December 11, 2009

UK initiates plastic electronics project

The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills - BIS, has formed a strategy group to consult extensively with the broader Plastic Electronics community at workshops.
This industry-led group has put together a document forward as a practical and pragmatic outline of the challenges and how they can be addressed. ”We have strengths in the UK that put us in a good position. And – unlike silicon electronics – the printed form does not demand huge capital outlays, so home manufacture is a very credible proposition. But we cannot go it alone. We need to look to the global supply chain, and attract inward investment to cross-fertilise ideas and experience with our own manufacturing and science bases”, Peter Mandelson Secretary of State for Business, Innovation & Skills said.

The government-funded Printable Electronics Centre in Sedgefield, will create up to 1,500 new jobs in the next five years. The new Innovation Investment Fund which will aim to generate £1 billion of venture capital funding will provide a vital new source of potential investment and UK Trade & Investment is developing strategies for promoting export and investment opportunities.

Plastic Electronics allows circuits to be produced at relatively low cost by printing electronic materials onto any surface, whether rigid or flexible. It is very different from the assembly of conventional silicon-based electronics. It will lead to the creation of a whole new range of products such as conformable and rollable electronic displays, ultra-efficient lighting and low-cost, long-life solar cells. The global market for Plastic Electronics is under $2 billion now, but is forecast to grow at an astonishing rate to as much as $330 billion in 2027.

An integrated delivery plan setting out longer-term funding provisions for research, development and demonstrator/ prototype activities - as informed by roadmapping and adjacent activities – should be produced. It should build on the progress and experience that has been gained from the Northern Way-funded Printed Electronics programme, which aims to produce a small number of ‘first generation’ demonstrators. Dialogue with EPSRC, the Technology Strategy Board, national and funding agencies and others including the Centres of Excellence should ensure a robust funding process to support the development cycle through to industrialisation.

The Technology Strategy Board remains committed to supporting the development of the UK’s Plastic Electronics sector and, as part of this strategy, plans to launch a new £8 million competition for collaborative R&D and demonstrator projects. This will complement the Northern Way demonstrator programme and address some of the technical barriers to be overcome on the road to commercial exploitation. The programme will enable the Technology Strategy Board to facilitate new collaborations and strengthen the UK Plastic Electronics supply chain. By building on the success of earlier competitions, the Technology Strategy Board anticipates that this will offer a clear route to exploit the UK wealth potential of Plastic Electronics. Liaison by the PELG should support this.

The UK’s five Centres of Excellence should be encouraged to develop a coordinated set of promotional materials that allow potential users to understand their capabilities and engagement models. Working practices should be developed to ensure that industry derives maximum benefit from the knowledge and expertise within the centres. All parties should build on the experience of the European Union’s Framework programmes and be prepared to take advantage of new initiatives being developed. BIS and some leading UK firms are actively engaged in the development of a European Strategic Research Agenda in the field of Organic and Large Area Electronics (OLAE).

This should lead to opportunities for significant ongoing funding support for R&D on Plastic Electronics over the period 2011 to 2015.

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