The Beijing Olympics vividly demonstrated that to wina gold medal it is essential to focus on a few areaswhere resources can be used most effectively. It isalso necessary to measure performance against worldstandards and to have the infrastructure and theexpert support people available who can help win themedal. It is the same for a region that wants to win theeconomic race.
Here in the North East it is necessary to choose thoseindustry sectors that have long-term growth potentialand where the region can build significant competitiveadvantage. It is then necessary to consistently invest inthe infrastructure required by the sector and to attractthe people, companies and researchers at the leadingedge. The measure of performance must always beagainst world standards. That is exactly what we are doing in the North East of England. The region’s Science and Industry Councilselected a small number of areas to drive economicgrowth in the 21st century. One of these areas isPrintable Electronics: NETPark and the PrintableElectronics Technology Centre (PETEC) is the focal pointfor investment in the sector, not only for the region butfor the UK.PETEC at NETPark is a major facility for the developmentand exploitation of direct write technologies and flexiblefunctional materials. This revolutionary technology ispredicted to be a $16 billion industry by 2015 and couldpotentially be even more disruptive than silicon-basedelectronics.Printable electronics have inherent properties that classicsilicon semiconductor technologies can never offer. Theirflexible form means that they can be used to builddisplays and panels that can be rolled-up or laminateddirectly onto surfaces using low cost production facilities. They are already being incorporated into consumerproducts and will lead to a new generation of productssuch as real-time electronic newspapers, electronic tags,intelligent interactive packaging, handheld medicaldiagnostic devices, flexible e-paper for interactive e-books, reports and advertisements, electro-textiles forsmart fashion and sportswear and energy in the form of fuel cells, solar cells and batteries.What about an electronic book that can bend? A flexibledisplay to hold patient medical records that can attach tothe wrist of the patient? The label on medicine to flashwhen it should be taken? Curtains or wall coverings inyour home that change colour based on your mood thatday? Plastic sensors woven into clothing that canmonitor your temperature and health? A credit card witha display for adverts? These opportunities are not just for big multinationalcompanies although many large companies willparticipate. The ability of this technology to change theway current products are used by consumers providesthe smaller company a chance to compete in nichesegments. It gives the North East the chance to growsmaller companies targeted at these opportunities. Thechange in design and functionality of the new productscan lead to opportunities for the region’s design skills.Imagination will be the only limit to the possibilities. Wewant entrepreneurs to start thinking now about the newbusiness opportunities that can be generated from thistechnology. We say to them, come to the incubators atNETPark to start your business and use the expertiseand critical mass of PETEC to help you develop yourproducts.We already know that this will be a major world industry.We also know that this is an area where the North Eastis leading the way globally and we must keep remindingourselves that international competitiveness is essential. The NETPark Advisory Group and the CPI Board (whichis the owner of the PETEC facility) are aligned in requiringthat the new centre must be of international standard. The Printable Electronics focus of the North East mustbe able to achieve a reputation in the top three or foursimilar facilities in the world. Today it is our investment inthe basic infrastructure that counts but in future it is ourcareful selection of the sub sectors where we can be inthe top tier in the world that will make the difference.Going forward the NETPark Advisory Group will be keento ensure that first and foremost the development of PETEC is always business led, that attractive andappropriate sub sectors are pursued and that leadinguniversities from all over the world are active participants.We want major industrial partners to be involved but weare also keen to unleash the entrepreneurial spirit thatthis technology allows and we want many new smallbusinesses to be created.If we do this, then the world will beat a path to our doorand NETPark will be known as the place to do businessin printable electronics. On that day we will have won thegold medal.
Bob Coxon OBEChairman, NETPark Advisory GroupChairman, CPI – The Centre for Process Innovation
Bob Coxon is a member of the Board of Directors ofseveral international businesses in the chemical andprocess industries.He is a non-Executive Director of AZ ElectronicMaterials, a speciality chemicals supplier to thesemiconductor and flat panel displays industrieswith manufacturing in Korea, Taiwan, Japan, China,Germany and the USA.He is a non-Executive Director of PQ Corporation aPhiladelphia based manufacturer of silicas, silicates,zeolites and catalysts. It is a global enterpriseoperating in 19 countries on five continents.He is a non-Executive Director of Stahl, the world’sleading speciality chemicals supplier to the leatherfinish industry with manufacturing in Holland, USA,India, Singapore and China.He is a non-Executive Director of Ensus, a companyestablished to produce fuel grade bioethanol for thetransport industry. The first Ensus plant, which iscurrently under construction on Teesside, will be thelargest production facility in Europe. It will producebioethanol by the fermentation of wheat grain.Mr Coxon is a Senior Advisor to The Carlyle Group,one of the world’s largest private equity firms, withmore than $89 billion under management. Mr. Coxonassists Carlyle in developing strategy andidentifying investments in the chemicals andprocess industry sectors. He is based in theirLondon office.He is also a Director of The Whitehall & IndustryGroup (WIG) a charity that fosters senior levelrelationships between major companies andWhitehall departments.In the North East of England he is Chairman of TheCentre for Process Innovation (CPI), Chairman of theNE Process Industries Cluster (NEPIC) thatrepresents over 400 companies in the region. He isalso Chairman of NETPark and is a member of theNorth East Science & Industry Council.Mr Coxon was awarded the OBE in the 2008 New Years Honours List.
BOB COXON OBE,
CHAIRMAN, NETPARK ADVISORY GROUP