The First Production of Flexible Electronics Appears in Russia
The Russian Flexible Electronics Centre was officially opened at the TechnoSpark Technology Campus in the Troitsk Science City. The new venture will allow Russia to enter the list of countries with its production facilities in this fast-growing electronics segment.
The TechnoSpark Group, part of the investment network of the RUSNANO’s Fund for Infrastructure and Educational Programs, specializes in working with “hardware” start-ups involved in robotics, energy storage systems, high-tech medical equipment, and industrial microbiology, etc.
On March 10, the Russian Flexible Electronics Center was officially opened at the TechnoSpark Technology Campus in the city of Troitsk, part of New Moscow. The new venture will allow Russia to enter the list of countries with its own production facilities in this fast-growing electronics segment.
“The Russian Flexible Electronics Center is the first TechnoSpark start-up to become a factory,” said Denis Kovalevich, CEO of TechnoSpark.
Initially, the RFEC will be involved in prototyping and small-scale production of a wide range of new products for a variety of customers, including foreign ones, by exploring various applications and breaking in full-cycle production processes on industrial equipment. Subsequently, according to Denis Kovalevich, the center will focus on the production of the most marginal products. At the same time, if necessary, some of the production processes can be outsourced, and due to this, the plant will be able to install new equipment and expand production.
In addition, the RFEC intends to sell ready-made processes for the production of devices on an industrial scale. In this way, the center will occupy a niche between research centers that create prototypes on laboratory equipment and large productions for which the experiments with setting up processes on operating lines are too expensive. According to Boris Galkin, the RFEC Director of Development, this positioning makes his company unique and makes it possible not to be afraid that the giants of the semiconductor business will enter the market of flexible electronics—it will be cheaper for them to buy ready-made processes from the companies like the RFEC, rather than to develop them themselves.
The plant in Troitsk will sell not only the semiconductors themselves, but the processes fine-tuned on industrial equipment
Now the RFEC is mastering the processes of making flexible organic TFT matrix on a plastic substrate, developed by the UK FlexEnable laboratory. This year, the technology for the production of flexible metal-oxide TFT matrix and integrated chips from the IMEC (Belgium) and Holst Centre (Netherlands) research centers will also be completed. The technology is transferred together with intellectual rights so that in case of any foreign policy conflicts, the transferred technologies will remain ours. But so far, as the RFEC leadership assures, there are no prerequisites for licensing threats.
The plant area is 4.2 thousand square meters, of which 1.8 thousand square meters are “clean rooms” in which no more than 29 dust particles per cubic meter are allowed. The number of employees is 30 people when reaching full capacity, and will increase to 100 people.
After reaching the design capacity, the production volume will be about 4 thousand square meters of TFT matrices per year. This is either 1.5 mln matrices for electronic price tags or smart cards, or 100 thousand matrices for tablet screens, or 100 thousand matrices for flexible biometric sensors about the size of a palm, or 100 mln chips for RFID tags.
After reaching the design capacity, the production volume will be about 4 thousand square meters of TFT matrices per year
Moscow Mayor Sergey Sobyanin, speaking at the opening of the plant, noted the speed of the creation of the technology park and the RFEC, to which the city government provided a subsidy for the purchase of equipment. Besides, Sergey Sobyanin promised to improve the transport accessibility of TechnoSpark by expanding the metro line to Troitsk.
Anatoly Chubais, Chairman of the Executive Board of RUSNANO and the Fund for Infrastructure and Educational Programs, which includes TechnoSpark, said that the creation of the RFEC had allowed the country to “enter the club” of the world’s leading technology powers and expressed confidence that the plant’s products would be in demand both on the Russian and on the world market.
More Flexible, Lighter, and Cheaper
The “flexible electronics” term combines a class of electronic devices, which, as the name suggests, can be bent, fold, etc. This property is based on the fact that flexible electronics uses plastic substrates instead of the silicone ones.
The use of plastic substrates determines other important properties of these devices—they are lighter and cheaper than silicone ones in many applications.
Interest in flexible electronics is growing as the Internet of Things evolves, the popularity of wearable electronics grows, and the range of smart labels expands. The analysts at IDTechEx estimated that in 2019, the print, flexible, and organic electronics market had been $37.1 bln, in 2020 it would grow to $41.2 bln, and by 2030—to $74 bln. The dynamics of the most popular flexible electronics—screens, is also impressive. According to Display Supply Chain Consultants, only 0.36 mln flexible displays were sold in 2019, and in 2023 they will reach 69 mln, of which smartphones will account for 77%, tablets—for 13%, and laptops—for 10%.
Flexible electronics is not a figure of speech, it bends and even rolls.
Overall, the potential annual market for flexible electronics is 80 mln cars, 2 bln gadgets, 80 bln items of clothing, and 10 trln packages for a variety of products. While in the first two categories “classic” silicon electronics can still compete with the agile one, in the last two it is almost uncompetitive, because the production of flexible electronics is much cheaper. According to Boris Galkin, modern “nanometer” production of silicon chips costs hundreds of millions, and lines for flexible electronics are much cheaper. In addition, while to make silicon RFID tags, a chip, antenna, and contact pads are needed to be produced using different technologies followed by the collection of a label from them, the “flexible” tag is made in a single process.
The Fund for Infrastructure and Educational Programs is one of the largest innovation infrastructure development institutions in Russia. It was created in 2010 during the reorganization of the Russian Nanotechnology Corporation. The Fund’s purpose is to support (financial and non-financial) development of high-tech sectors of the economy. It is responsible for 15 nanocenters, 10 engineering companies, and 770 startups. The Fund has developed 182 educational programs for specialists of high-tech companies, and 63 professional standards. In 2018, the revenue of start-ups amounted to RUB 5.5 bln, and that of engineering companies—RUB 265 mln.
Five companies of the FIEP investment network were included in the fifth national ranking of the most efficient technology parks, annually compiled by the Association of Clusters and Technology Parks of Russia, released in September 2019. At the same time, TechnoSpark took first place in the integral ranking for the fourth year in a row.