New Market: Global Prospects for Flexible Electronics from Troitsk
In the next 10 years, the global market for print, flexible, and organic electronics will almost double to $74 bln. The Russian Center for Flexible Electronics, which manufactures key components for a wide range of devices, will also benefit from this growth.
A thin sheet of transparent plastic can be bent as you like—even if rolled into a tube, it will not suffer any damage. This is not a packaging material, but a high-tech product—a plastic TFT matrix (thin-film-transistor), a control layer for displays, sensors, and electronic tags. The TechnoSpark Group, which specializes in the serial creation of technological startups, has launched the first industrial production of such matrices in Russia. The Russian Center for Flexible Electronics in New Moscow, in the Troitsk Science City, was built from scratch in an open field. The project was invested by the RUSNANO’s Fund for Infrastructure and Education Programs with the support of the Moscow government.
In 2014, when the idea for the plant came up, there was no industrial technology of flexible TFT electronics in the world, but only laboratory development. The TechnoSpark team set out to enter the flexible electronics component market at the same time as global technology leaders.
“We have chosen a certain and free niche between the R&D centers and large production sites,” says Boris Galkin, Director for Development of the Russian Center for Flexible Electronics (RCFE). “The first are not able to produce industrial-quality products, but only prototypes, and the second do not invest in large capacities, because plastic TFT electronics is a nascent market. In the global technology market, there was a shortage of prototyping centers as an intermediate link between developers and manufacturing. We decided to close this gap in Russia and take positions in the international market with the prototyping service and small-scale production of matrixes that would be enough, for example, for the production of several thousand devices.”
RUSNANO and TechnoSpark have agreed on technology transfer with leading technology developers in this area, namely FlexEnable (UK), imec (Belgium), and Holst Center (Netherlands). Manufacturing equipment was purchased mainly in South Korea. Suppliers include companies that manufacture technology equipment for Samsung, LG, and other leading microelectronics manufacturers. The planned capacity of the plant in Troitsk is 4,000 sqm of TFT-matrices per year that will be enough for 300,000 LCD screens for consumer electronics, 100 mln RFID tags or 1.5 mln screens for electronic price tags.
Up to 80% of the products are planned to be exported.
The choice of niche and the business model of the Russian Center for Flexible Electronics make the products produced in Troitsk competitive in the global market. TechnoSpark has been engaged in venture capital construction for eight years, including mass-producing global deep-tech developments from the “industrial research and development” stage to the “industrial technology” stage. In addition to flexible TFT electronics, according to a similar model, TechnoSpark works in integrated photovoltaics, biotechnology, picosecond lasers, and other technological domains. This model of company construction allows to significantly lower operating costs as compared to microelectronic factories in the world.
There is no doubt that the demand for flexible electronics will grow. Experts predict that in the next 10 years the global market of printed, flexible, and organic electronics will almost double: according to the research of IDTechEx, it will grow from $41.2 bln in 2020 to $74 bln in 2030. While 360,000 such screens for smartphones, tablets, and laptops were sold in 2019, 69 mln will be needed in 2023 (according to Display Supply Chain Consultants).
The Russian Center for Flexible Electronics, as a contract company that industrially produces key components for a wide range of devices, has every chance of integrating its products into the global supply chain. Thin-film transistor matrices make it possible, for example, to create a compact fingerprint scanner, the weight and dimensions of which will be 10 times less than the analogues existing on the market. Negotiations on the development of such detectors are already underway with a number of potential domestic and foreign partners. Curved LCD displays for dashboards or car side pillars hold great promise. Manufacturers of smart cards, electronic price tags, and digital signage devices are interested in shock-resistant displays on electronic paper. These are just some of the applications for TFT matrices manufactured in Troitsk.
Other promising products that will help implement TFT matrices from the RCFE are flexible displays for augmented reality, the integration of flexible electronics with clothing, and medical equipment. “With the help of flexible electronics, any surfaces become reflective,” says Yury Udaltsov, Deputy Chairman of the Management Board of the RUSNANO Management Company. “One of the world’s largest manufacturers of smart home systems is interested in turning the surface of a smart speaker into a display so that the user can see information from any side. Everyone is waiting for integration with clothing, which will allow monitoring the key parameters of a person’s condition. Imagine the application of flexible electronics in medical devices, in the same X-ray machine. It is necessary to only wrap the right part of your hand with film and take a picture; the equipment becomes light and portable. We are already working on such solutions.”
The TechnoSpark Group of Companies, a part of the investment network of the Fund for Infrastructure and Educational Programs, is involved in all aspects of venture creation: from establishing a start-up to its sale. The TechnoSpark Group of Companies is in the hardware industry, working in areas, such as robotics in logistics, energy storage systems, hi-tech medical equipment, diamond optics, braided composites, optical and industrial surfaces, genomics, industrial microbiology, thin-film integrated photovoltaics, additive technologies and flexible electronics. The Group of Companies is in first place according to the National rating of Russia’s most effective technology parks and was included in the National Rating of Russian Fast-growing Technology Companies, TechUp 2019. It is also a part of the community of startup studios, the Global Startup Studio Network (GSSN).
For more information about the company, visit technospark.ru