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How Are Flexible Electronics Manufactured?

Dec 20, 2019 11:15:00 AM / by Doug Skilskyj

FlexibleElectronics

There’s a lot of buzz around flexible electronics today, and rightfully so.

The convergence of these technologies, including wearable devices and foldable displays, enable innovative form factors and features that provide consumers with highly personalized experiences.

The market is segmented by application (displaying, lighting and sensing) and end-user (automotive, aerospace, health and wellness, electronics, medical, military and robotics). But, how exactly are these electronics manufactured to flex and fold without breaking across their various use cases? Below, we explore how the technology has evolved over the years.

The Past

Until recently, mono-crystalline silicon was the heart of the semiconductor industry. Integrated circuits and devices were manufactured using silicon substrates on glass. While this technology has its advantages, mono-crystalline silicon is not flexible. Because of this, there has been a fundamental shift away from silicon-based technology to enable growth in other industries, including flexible electronics.

Engineers have explored a range of materials that exhibit better performance than silicon, but until now the processes needed to produce functional devices with alternative materials have been rather complex and expensive.

The Present

To make flexible electronics, all components must comply with bending to some degree without losing their function. Conventional silicon technology typically involves rigid substrates that allow very little bending. Organic materials used to fabricate devices, such as organic thin-film transistors (OTFTs), are ideal for flexible electronics.

With organic thin-film transistors (OTFTs), the fabrication process is far less complex compared to conventional silicon technology. One significant difference is processing temperatures. Conventional silicon technology uses high temperature processing which require rigid substrates such as glass that can withstand the high temperatures. To make flexible electronics, low-temperature processing is utilized—typically around 150 ̊C or less. This low temperature processing allows the use of flexible plastic substrates. Combining the flexible substrates and organic materials allows fully functional flexible devices to be fabricated and opens up the possibility of roll-to-roll processing.

The Future

Flexible electronics are changing the way we make and use technology. In fact, IDTechEx research finds that the total market for flexible, organic and printed electronics will grow from $41 billion in 2020 to $74 billion in 2030.

The rise of the flexible electronics industry, and the exciting applications it enables, continues to push the development of new materials. They’ll need to evolve to improve circuit density, functionality, manufacturability and reliability. But, it’s safe to say flexible technology is here to stay, and will continue to grow in the future.

Promerus develops a variety of electronic materials for the next generation of applications. These materials are based on high-purity polymers that provide outstanding electrical, mechanical, thermal and optical properties in many applications. To see what Promerus can do for you, contact us with questions. In the meantime, subscribe to our blog for updates on similar topics.

Topics: Flexible Electronics, Applications

Doug Skilskyj

Written by Doug Skilskyj

Manager, Production and Polymer Process Development at Promerus LLC