Moulding the future of plastic electronics

Bar code biometrics

26 January 2011

The Coalition Government has taken a bold decision to back British innovation by supporting the emerging plastic electronics industry. A report from the Advanced Institute of Management (AIM) Research sheds light on this exciting new sector.

"Hollywood has depicted products that use flexible electronics - from animated, electronic newspapers like Harry Potter’s Daily Prophet to smart pill packaging that beeps your doctor when you forget to take your medication. But now, plastic electronics has evolved from science fiction to science fact," according to Dr Zella King from Henley Business School, AIM innovation Fellow and author of the AIM Research report. "Thanks to developments, we could be seeing printed electronics appearing in our everyday lives soon, from large-area ultra-efficient lighting and low cost solar cells in new buildings, through to intelligent labels that authenticate high-value branded goods."

The government has identified plastic electronics as a key area for development. The launch of the UK Plastic Electronics Strategy in 2009 was coupled with an £8-million investment administered through the Technology Strategy Board. The aim is to promote the growth and development of the industry through collaborative projects. The plastic electronics industry is predicted to be worth $300 billion by 2030 and Britain is leading the way on global innovations.

Market demand for plastic electronics goods is vast, and some companies have been quick to embrace its potential. Hewlett-Packard is advocating the move towards 'Information Surfaces' – plastic sheets that can display paper-like, high-detail text as well as interactive media. However, some say that companies have yet to fully understand the breadth of the revolution taking place and the potential impact on their businesses. "British industry needs to realise that this is no longer the sole domain of electronics companies," says Dr King, "it is open to anyone seeking to add value to their existing product range."

"Plastic electronics can unlock a plethora of possibilities and benefits," adds plastic electronics industry expert Cathy Curling of Curling Consulting. "With a collaborative, multi-disciplinary approach involving British designers, technologists and market-led end-user companies and organisations incorporating PE devices into their products, Britain will be well-placed to create significant commercial value for the nation’s economy."

From the ESRC magazine Britain in 2011