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What You Should Know About Organic Electronics
$31.7 billion—that’s the total market value for organic electronics in 2018 according to the latest report from IDTechEx. And while a big part of that number ($25.5 billion) is thanks to OLED displays (largely not flexible or printed), other more exotic applications such as printed flexible sensors and displays, and conductive inks are finally starting to take off. The industry as a whole is projected to grow to $77.3 billion by 2029.
So what are organic electronics and why are they making waves in the larger consumer electronics industry? In this post we’ll provide an overview of the state of organic electronics in 2018.
What are organic electronics?
Organic electronics is a field of materials science centered around organic materials with desirable electronic properties (e.g. conductivity). It’s the presence of carbon that makes an organic material, and therefore organic electronics, “organic.”
In contrast with conventional electronics made from inorganic materials such as silicon or metals, organic electronics are made up of carbon-based molecules and polymers. The use of organic materials gives electronics designers access to a wider range of material properties such as flexibility or high thermal stability. As manufacturing techniques improve, the inherently lower cost of carbon promises cheaper electronics in the long run. Let’s take a look at some examples of organic electronics in the industry today.
OLED Displays Features
They’re thinner, they’re lighter, and they’re more energy efficient—there’s a reason OLED TVs reign supreme. While LED/LCD TVs still have an advantage in cost and brightness, recent advances have helped OLEDs close much of that gap. Short for organic light-emitting diode, the OLED improves on the conventional LED in a few key ways:
No backlight. OLEDs directly transform electricity into light, eliminating the need for a backlight and resulting in thinner, lighter devices.
Pixel precision. OLEDs consist of thin films of organic compounds, they can be manufactured to be extremely small and used as individual pixels. These pixels can be individually switched off leading to tighter control.
Darker blacks. OLED displays yield better blacks, the individual pixels emit light only when electricity is present. When a pixel is switched off, it is truly black.
AMOLED. The active-matrix OLED (AMOLED) involves depositing OLED pixels onto thin-film transistor (TFT) arrays to improve response times and control over individual pixels while reducing power requirements (allowing the designer to use lower voltage). While these designs are more prone to screen burn, they are great for mobile devices which won’t be left on for long periods of time.
Unsurprisingly the OLED displays are manufactured by major consumer electronics giants such as LG, Sony, and Samsung. It’s not just for TVs and smartphones, other devices also make use of the display.
Samsung made news in November when they unveiled their bendable smartphone prototype. At the heart of the new technology was a polished flexible OLED display. The phone folds in half like a notebook, making it possible to fit a small tablet sized phone in your pocket. Instead of the glass of a typical display, the circuitry is embedded in a flexible polymer film.
While we’ve heard about flexible displays for years at trade shows across the globe, several design challenges have prevented them from going mainstream. One must not only make the display flexible, but the rest of the device from the protective screen to the backplane flexible as well. Components must be placed with the expected folding or rolling in mind so that the end user can’t get carried away and damage the device.
Samsung plans to release their flexible smartphone sometime in 2019. Depending on how it fares, we may soon see other tablets, wearables, and other devices follow. FlexEnable’s organic TFTs (OTFTs) allow them to take their flexibility to the next level, letting you roll their paper thin displays.
It’s not just flexible displays either, printed and flexible sensors makeup $3.6 billion of the organic electronics industry. These include sensors such as glucose test strips, photodetectors, thermistors, force sensors, and capacitive sensors.
What are Organic Semiconducting Inks
In August 2018, the University of Newcastle in Australia demonstrated the power of printed solar when five people were able to install a 200 square meter solar array on a factory roof in a single day. They used standard printing equipment to manufacture the solar modules, repurposing a machine typically used to print wine labels. Their secret: organic semiconducting polymer-based inks.
These organic semiconducting inks can be printed on standard plastic sheets to create solar panels that can quickly be rolled out to cover a large surface. It’s not just solar panels, the same concept can and has been applied to a wide variety of applications including the fabrication of flexible sensors and displays.
Organic electronics are finally becoming mainstream after years of research and development. The versatility of organic materials gives designers more options when designing electronic devices. Of these technologies, OLEDs, flexibility, and printability are particularly poised to help the organic electronics industry rise to prominence within the next decade.