Enabling India’s Role in Flexible Electronics

Sep212017

At Applied Materials India, we work to innovate and solve high-value problems through leveraging our region’s considerable talent and resources. Just as the Indian government seeks to enable development through its Make in India initiative, we look to collaborate and encourage partnerships across our different industry sectors for mutual success.

Flexible electronics is an emerging field focused on creating flexible circuitry and displays for everything from fold-out monitors or televisions to tiny smartphones worn on a wrist. Among the most exciting developments are health-related applications like smart monitoring devices and implants.

This rapidly developing technology was the focus of our latest event designed to spur innovation and collaboration: Flexi-tronics 2017, held recently in New Delhi. Sponsored by Applied Materials India and IIT-Kanpur, this conference brought together many sectors: government, academia, nonprofits, trade groups and the technology industry. As we considered opportunities in our region, our workshop discussions centered on development strategies for wearables, Internet of Things (IoT), smart health devices and smart packaging; naturally, we also discussed challenges facing this new industry.

India’s role in this emerging field was a major focus. Representatives from the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology urged academia and industry to develop new applications and partner with existing companies to accelerate growth. My colleague Ashwini Aggarwal, who is on Applied’s government affairs team and is also Chairman of the India Electronics & Semiconductor Association, similarly insisted that to “ensure start-ups in the field can create ideas that are executed in India, it is critical that government and industry combine forces.” He pointed to the National Centre for Flexible Electronics as a key enabler. Indeed, everybody in the flexible electronics ecosystem has a role to play.

As we explored specific innovations, we discussed ways that flexible-electronics-enabled form factors will dramatically enhance creative, new generation applications—including an increasing number of wearables. It is clear that consumer engagement with wearables and the IoT will drive innovation—and that the demand for touch sensors will keep building. At the same time, display is increasingly moving toward being flexible. So, the emergence of flexible electronics has the potential to be a critical game-changer, and our technology must meet the new demands.

Some participants emphasized the need to build an IoT ecosystem, starting with local versions here in India, in which physical objects connected to the Internet would be linked. Such an ecosystem would, in theory, improve low power communication, battery life, deep network penetration, security, and the function of transducers and physical sensors.

Sensors were a key focus in another area: the emergence of smart health devices. Many participants envisioned government and industry collaborating on flexible electronics for health applications. For example, networked flexible medical devices may be able to improve healthcare by providing an accurate picture of how services are currently delivered.

We also considered the benefits smart packaging might deliver in the consumer packaged goods space. Speakers envisioned intelligent packaging with flexible electronic components that would differentiate a genuine from a copied product and mitigate counterfeiting. This issue has affected the Indian economy for many years, so it is important for the industry to find a solution.

While most of the workshop was forward-looking, we also discussed today’s challenges and possible solutions. For example, flexible electronics innovators currently do not have an ecosystem due to the price points involved, but more government and non-profit engagement could change this. We need to keep pushing for collaboration to drive cost-effective innovation. One idea we agreed on to optimize cost and performance is a hybrid approach to R&D that implements hybrid design and production strategies. Hybrid integration schemes combine the advantages of traditional silicon and memory capability with large-scale integrated sensor and display devices.

But to get to that future, we must first resolve other issues. As several participants pointed out, Indian flexible electronics developers—like those worldwide—face challenges in large-area manufacturing, whether using plastic, glass, metal or ceramic substrates. Current production issues include thickness and composition uniformity control, plus lowering defect rates and improving temperature control.

The challenges are real; however, we at Applied Materials India remain optimistic: technology solutions will be developed, and we are leading the way to providing innovative materials engineering solutions and creating collaborations that will help advance the future of flexible electronics.