Enabling Flexible Displays and Sensors With Organic Electronics
Posted 20th January 2017 by Laura Berry
While most conventional electronics are based on silicon transistors, there are other approaches being developed that seek to enable truly flexible components. At FlexEnable we believe the only way you can make truly flexible electronics is to start with truly flexible materials, so we use plastics (also referred to as organic materials) instead of ceramics to make our transistors. We have replaced the glass substrate, on which the transistors are usually deposited, with low-cost plastic film. This allows us to make flexible displays and sensors that are ultra-thin, light and shatterproof.
As they enable new form factors and use cases, flexible displays and sensors have the potential to transform consumer electronics and other products, perhaps more than any other technology breakthrough in the past 20 years.
Truly flexible displays that can fold and roll may still be only available as concepts or prototypes, but displays that can curve and conform to surfaces are already a real option for product designers.
Liquid crystal display, or LCD, is the most widely used display technology today, and accounts for more than 90% of the displays sold. However, they are made with glass which limits the ability to flex the display and conform it to surfaces. If the glass is replaced with ultra-thin plastic, an LCD can be made to bend. We have developed a plastic LCD and called the technology organic liquid crystal display (OLCD).
OLCD technology can achieve the same performance as your TV at home, but on plastic. Moreover, the manufacturing process for OLCD is highly compatible with existing capital equipment used for glass LCDs, and using much of the existing materials supply chain, making OLCD the lowest cost flexible display technology today.
OLCDs are thin, lightweight and shatterproof making them suitable for applications ranging from displays for automotive and wearables to digital signage.
Flexible fingerprint sensors
A large percentage of existing fingerprint sensors on the market use silicon technology, which is costly, and limits the robustness, flexibility and light-weight attributes of the sensor module.
Flexible fingerprint sensors that use organic electronics can provide solutions that aren’t possible with silicon sensors. Apart from being thin, light and shatterproof, they can enable curved large area sensors that can image five fingers in a single acquisition without requiring the floor space of a palm sensor; they offer cost reduction benefits too.
Flexible fingerprint sensors have versatile applications including smart cards, border control scanners and wearables.
Flexible X-ray image sensors
Amorphous silicon based X-ray detectors are made on glass which makes them heavy and fragile. This weight comes mainly from the glass on which the sensor is made and all the housing that is installed to cushion the glass from breaking in the event of a drop. Such housing adds cost and complexity to the X-ray sensor – which can be avoided with a plastic based X-ray sensor. A plastic based X-ray detector will also be significantly lighter than a glass-based detector and can be conformed to objects thereby allowing a new range of healthcare applications that simply aren’t possible using a rigid X-ray detector.
Taking flexible displays and sensors from lab to fab
Producing flexible displays and sensors requires a complex set of processes where throughput, yield, reliability and supply chain are all critical to a successful scale-up into mass production. To overcome some of the manufacturing challenges, we have developed processes that are compatible with existing manufacturing lines, and we are concurrently working with partners on exciting new product prototypes and use cases enabled by this technology. We believe that all the pieces are now in place to enable the mass production of high performance flexible colour video-rate displays and sensors.
Desi Aleksandrova is Marketing Communications Manager at FlexEnable, a pioneer in flexible electronics.
Herve Vandekerckhove of FlexEnable will be speaking on flexible displays and sensors at the Printed and Flexible Electronics Congress. Take a look at the agenda.
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