Lab-to-Fab Challenges and Synergies with CMOS Manufacturing Discussed at Plastic Electronics Conference/SEMICON Europa

Lab-to-Fab Challenges and Synergies with CMOS Manufacturing Discussed at Plastic Electronics Conference/SEMICON Europa

Plastic Electronics 2011 image 1Scaling to high-volume, competitive production and leveraging the experiences and complementary technologies of the semiconductor industry were the main discussion topics of the plenary opening forum of the Plastic Electronics Conference, held jointly with SEMICON Europa, held on Oct 11-13 in Dresden, Germany.  Executives from BASF, imec, Flextronics, STMicroelectronics, Fraunhofer, and ARM discussed the status and enormous potential of organic, large area and printed electronics and how to overcome the technical and market development challenges in displays, solid state lighting, solar PV, logic/memory, and other applications.

Scaling to high-volume, competitive production and leveraging the experiences and complimentary technologies of the semiconductor industry were the main discussion topics of the plenary opening forum of the Plastic Electronics Conference, held jointly with SEMICON Europa, held on Oct 11-13 in Dresden, Germany.  Executives from BASF, imec, Flextronics, STMicroelectronics, Fraunhofer, and ARM discussed the status and enormous potential of organic, large area and printed electronics and how to overcome the technical and market development challenges in displays, solid state lighting, solar PV, logic/memory, and other applications.

Plastic Electronics 2011 image 2This was the second year that the Plastics Electronics Conference (PE2011), which showcases emerging and growing technologies including OLEDs, organic sensors, bioelectronics, flexible electronics, displays, lighting, and PV has co-located with SEMICON Europa.  The state of Saxony, especially the region of Dresden is one of the world’s largest clusters for organic semiconductor R&D and manufacturing. More than 39 companies and 17 research institutes with over 1,000 employees currently are active in the field.

Large Area, Flexible Organic ElectronicsAs part of the event, over 40 exhibitors joined the SEMICON exhibition to showcase the latest developments organic and printed electronics manufacturing.  The conference featured speakers from Samsung, LG, Philips, Panasonic and other large end-product manufacturers and dozens of speakers from universities, research institutes and leading equipment and materials suppliers to discuss the emerging market, estimated to as large as $58 billion by 2020.

Dr. Karl Hahn, head of “Physical Chemistry & Informatics”, Specialty Chemicals Laboratory, BASF SE, began the discussion emphasizing the enormous potential behind organic electronics, but acknowledged the continuing technical and commercialization barriers that frustrate researchers, investors, technologies and business planners. BASF established a "Joint Innovation Lab - Organic Electronics" in 2006 to pursue research in cooperation partners from industrial companies, universities and research institutes from Germany and abroad. The researchers at JIL are currently focusing on the areas organic light emitting diodes and organic photovoltaics.

“We need to have patience, we need to have courage,” said Hahn.  “We see enormous potential in 3-5 years.”

Plastic Electronics 2011 image 3Mr. Mattias Lindhe, SBS vice president, Flextronics, provided the perspective of electronic manufacturing services provider to the commercialization vision.  They see need for close collaboration between customers, technologists and the supply chain as the key to growth.  “Virtual integration” between the key players will be essential to scale to high volume products.

Prof. Dr. Paul Heremans, director Large Area Electronics, imec fellow, IMEC and professor at the Electrical Engineering Department of the University of Leuven, Belgium, emphasized the need for clear advantages over silicon.  “Development efforts must be driven by performance, power savings and price reductions.”

Heremans described imec development efforts with thin-film semiconductors that can be deposited at low temperatures on plastic foil to make flexible electronics. Two classes of work include plastic semiconductors made of conjugated molecules and polymers, and oxide semiconductors, mostly gallium-indium-zinc oxide. Application areas for transistors on flexible foils are flexible displays: active matrix displays have thin-film transistors behind every pixel to drive these pixels. The second application for thin-film transistors on plastic foil are flexible and low-cost circuits, such as low-cost RFID tags and low-cost 8-bit microprocessors. The third application is the combination of sensor or actuator nodes on a foil in an active matrix configuration, where small circuits behind each pixel perform basic processing of sensoric inputs. Heremans emphasized that there are many “opportunities not to replace, but complement silicon.”

Sir Robin Saxby, founder and former chairman of ARM, provided a personal perspective between his experiences at ARM with the current state of the emerging plastic electronic field.  Showing the original SWOT analysis that launched ARM in 1990, he drew parallels about organic electronics need to “carve out a space that no one occupies,” and to “go beyond the need of your immediate customer.”  He also recognized the need for global standards, globally accepted processes and other infrastructure— such as software development tools— to enable market growth and easy customer adoption.

Dr. Luigi Occhipinti, R&D director, STMicroelectronics, also emphasized the complimentary role of organic, printed and flexible electronics in smart systems.  In applications from mobile communications, entertainment, gaming and health/medical, the need for conformable, low cost, low power, and self-powered components are ubiquitous.  But he added, “Disruptive steps are needed.”

Dr. Eicke Weber, director of the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems discussed the enormous market for solar energy— already $50 billion today— and the huge potential for organic PV (OPV) in the future.  Because the optical absorption coefficient of organic molecules is high (a large amount of light can be absorbed with a small amount of materials), OPV can theoretically deliver efficiencies of 34-38%, well above today’s Si technologies.  And, since roll-to-roll processing for can achieve highly productive, low-cost manufacturing, OPV is seen as a potential major contributor to the future energy mix.  Current technical challenges with OPV, however, include their low quantum efficiency (~3%) in comparison with inorganic PV materials, largely due to the large band gap of organic materials. Another challenge is performance degradation resulting from instabilities against oxidation and reduction, recrystallization and temperature variations. 

“We still need scientific breakthroughs,” said Webber, but noted OPV will still contribute to important niches, such as building integrated PV, flexible/conformable PV applications, and low power PV for sensors and ICs.  “Let’s see what the future brings,” concluded Dr. Webber.

The panelists agreed that integrating the science-to application ecosystem, and finding synergies and common solutions that can be applied to all organic electronics would be a key to successful, large scale commercialization.   “More than Moore areas too fractionated; look to how to combine and leverage common needs,” said Flextronic’s Lindhe.  “Connection of design to manufacturing needs to be tighter.  Strategic ties between application and production companies need to be tighter.  Look for the potential to tie production technologies around multiple products and technologies.”

 

November 8, 2011