Plastic Electronics

Plastic electronics or organic electronics is a branch of electronics that deals with conductive polymers, or plastics. It is called 'organic' electronics because the molecules in the polymer are carbon-based, like the molecules of living things. This is as opposed to traditional electronics which relies on inorganic conductors such as copper or silicon.

Historically, the semiconductor industry has relied on flat, two-dimensional chips upon which to grow and etch the thin films of material that become electronic circuits for computers and other electronic devices. But as thin as those chips might seem, they are quite beefy in comparison to these plastic chips. Printed electronics may make innovations like these possible, and affordable, in the not so distant future. The technology has enormous potential for a number of industries, including consumer products and electronics, the military, and of course, communications.

Thin Film Electronics (TFE) plays a leading role in the emerging field of large-area polymer electronics, and a pioneer in the use of polymers as the active material in electronic memory devices. Such devices may be hybrid, using silicon control circuits, or all-polymer systems, using thin film transistor (TFT) technology.

The interest in using polymers arises in particular from two distinguishing properties. Firstly, polymers are ‘solution process-able’. Secondly, polymers are a designer material whose properties can be tailored to the application. This gives polymers a decisive advantage over silicon with respect to adapting capabilities and minimizing processing costs in future applications. Polymers can be applied to almost any surface, whether flexible or rigid, facing only practical restrictions regarding size of the active area. (In contrast, silicon is rigid and brittle, and still restricted by a maximum wafer diameter of 12 inches.) Ultra-thin layers of polymers can be stacked like sheets of paper or rolled up. Surface patterning of polymers does not require factory environment, but simple printers, stamping or even reelto-reel production techniques similar to those used for printing on paper can be used. Silicon, currently the dominant electronic material, is deeply entrenched in the industry and companies with vast financial and technical resources seek to protect their silicon-based position and investment. More than ever, it remains a conviction that polymer is the future electronic material, particularly in memory applications.

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