In the future, you may be able to roll up your television
and put it in your coat pocket.
In such a scenario, electronic functions-wiring diagrams,
actuators, sensors and antennae-are integrated in compact electronic modules
that are produced on plastic film.
"Traditionally we just assembled pieces of electronics onto
a board and connected it up with wires. If you can convert that to a
roll-to-roll printing process then all of your touch screens, all of your big
display screens become much more economical to produce, "says Patrick
W. Thomas, CEO of Bayer MaterialScience (BMS).
Polycarbonate films with printed electronic functions can
also be formed into three-dimensional shapes with the insert molding process.
An example was on display at the K 2010 plastics fair in Düsseldorf, Germany
last month. The Bayer MaterialScience stand showed a large, one-piece central
console with integrated electronic features.
BMS is working on polymer electronics technologies in a new
Functional Films Research Center in Singapore.
- Three-dimensional insert molding of polycarbonate films printed with electronic
- Electroactive polymers developed by SRI
International and now being commercialized by a recently acquired BMS company,
Artificial Muscle Inc.
- Automatic screen printing systems, additive
manufacturing and high-pressure forming (HPF) units that allow printed films to
be thermoformed with minimal distortion
"This printed polymer electronics technology is seen as a
next-generation technology for delivering cost-effective production of highly
integrated, complex molded electronic components," says Dirk Pophusen, head of
business development for functional films in the Europe, Middle East, Africa,
Latin America region at Bayer MaterialScience.
One of the technologies involved is a three-dimensional formable
hardcoat film Makrofol HF. The basis for the film's excellent formability
(including narrow radii and high depths of draw) is the curing approach. The scratch-resistant
coating is pre-cured and is not completely cured with standard UV lamps until
forming is finished.
BMS says the polycarbonate film produces surfaces with a
deep gloss finish that are highly resistant to chemicals and abrasion. One
target use is a high-gloss piano finish in combination with "vanish-effect"
technologies. These make the contours of light symbols appear to vanish when
these are switched off. This is sometimes referred to as "black
The electronics come from electrically activated plastic
films, sometimes called artificial
, which function as actuators and sensors. In a near-term
application, they can produce a tactile response when a display is touched.
They are described as largely wear-resistant, unlike conventional mechanical
One issue for the new polymer electronics is protection. New
coatings and barrier systems are needed to shield the sensitive polymers. "Most
of the printed films that exist at the moment only really last for a short
period of time because air and water gets into the electronics and that destroys
these organic materials," says Thomas.
Roll-to-roll TV production may still be 10 to15 years away,
but other, less dramatic applications, are closer.
According to forecasts by British market research company
IDTechEx, the global market for polymer electronics, is set to grow to almost
$100 billion by 2020 and reach $250 billion just five years later.