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E-paper factory to create wearable electronics market

Antony Savvas

New markets for low-power signage and wearable electronics will be created as a result of UK company Plastic Logic opening a factory in Germany, according to analyst Gartner.

Cambridge-based Plastic Logic said it had raised $100m (£53m) in venture capital for a factory in Dresden, which will produce commercial quantities of plastic electronics for flexible displays for the first time. The factory will start production of flexible electronic paper (e-paper) display modules for portable devices in 2008.

Gartner noted that polymer electronics had been talked about for years, but had suffered from several problems, including poor transistor gain, susceptibility to contamination (particularly moisture) and low circuit densities.

Plastic Logic said it had solved most of these issues and could build reliable parts from inexpensive materials. According to Gartner, e-paper displays lend themselves to bulk printing processes.

The module design uses a display area of polymer transistors driven by silicon integrated circuits.

Gartner believes that Plastic Logic's e-paper initiative is likely to succeed and that the company has the resources to further develop its organic transistor technology.

Polymer e-paper displays can be bendable and flexible. They can also be fabricated on curved (but rigid) surfaces such as car dashboards, and require almost no power to maintain an image. Gartner said signage was already an attractive market for the technology.

As polymer electronics advance, devices could be embedded in clothing, soft toys and other products, where they could be used for radio frequency identification (RFID) tags.

Plastic electronics can be produced in large sheets but are relatively slow in operation. Gartner said that they wouldn't replace silicon chips, which have a lower cost per transistor and offer dense, sophisticated and fast logic capabilities. Plastic circuits will therefore be used in new and emerging applications, Gartner believes, and will initially succeed when combined with silicon solutions.

Other companies working on polymer technology include IBM, Philips, Xerox, Hitachi, Samsung and AU Optronics.

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