What is Large-Area Electronics?

Large-Area Electronics (including printable, flexible or organic electronics) is a new way of making electronics using novel electronic materials, often formulated as inks, and low-temperature processes such as printing and coating. Examples include photovoltaics, lighting, displays, sensing systems and intelligent objects.

The concept of using low-temperature manufacturing processes such as printing to deposit functional materials directly onto flexible substrates to make optoelectronic devices and intelligent systems is revolutionary from both cost and environmental perspectives. Manufacturing plants can be built with one tenth to one hundredth of the capital cost of conventional semiconductor or thin-film fabrication plants. Devices can be produced in high-volume over large areas on flexible substrates thereby enabling electronic systems to be deployed in a wide variety of non-traditional situations: on paper and plastic, on clothes, in furniture, cars and buildings, as well as on packaging and even in and on the human body. We prefer to use the broad term “Large-Area Electronics” (LAE) because many systems will require both conventional and printed electronics, benefiting from the high performance of the conventional and the ability of the printable to create functionality over large-areas cost-effectively.

Much progress has been made over the last 20 years in producing new functional materials with suitable performance and stability in operation as evidenced by the OLED display market.

Other areas are following the lead of OLED displays and these include:

  • organic photovoltaics,
  • OLED lighting,
  • “distributed intelligence” based on printable logic circuits and electronic components,
  • printable sensors including biosensors, and
  • flexible displays.

Multifunctional LAE systems, combining elements that could include sensors, power generation and storage, signal processing and logic elements, and output capability through information display or by wireless transmission are now rapidly emerging with applications in sectors such as healthcare, wellness and fitness, smart packaging, automotive, industrial, smart buildings and design. However, the broader industry has been slow to take-off, due in part to (i) printing-based manufacturing scale-up being significantly more challenging than expected and (ii) the inability to produce and test complete multifunctional electronic systems as required in several early markets. The EPSRC Centre for Innovative Manufacturing is tackling these challenges by addressing high-volume manufacturing routes for printed electronics and the integration of component technologies into systems.

For more information about the work that we do, an analysis of the growth opportunities in LAE and detail on the future of LAE within the UK, please read our online Annual Reports.