Ohio makes a play to lead flexible electronics manufacturing
Confidence in plastic and printed electronics as growth industries of the future has prompted US agencies to make strategic investments in developing a manufacturing base in Ohio
NorTech, a non-profit, technology-based economic development organisation, has set out a bid to establish a supply chain for low-cost electronics on flexible materials in north-east Ohio.
The agency has developed the roadmap, in consultation with 23 technology and industry experts from R&D institutes, manufacturers and materials suppliers, to develop a $100 million (€72.9 million) industry that will create up to 1,500 jobs by 2017.
FlexMatters, the region’s cluster of research institutes and businesses developing flexible electronics technology and products, has recently won support under US federal and regional government support programmes, as well as $500,000 from the US Small Business Administration, awarded to NorTech to be directed towards helping small and mid-sized businesses target opportunities in flexible electronics.
In the field of plastic and printed electronics, Ohio’s IP capital resides in the Liquid Crystal Institute (LCI) at Kent State University and polymer research by the University of Akron. Research by LCI led to the founding of Kent Displays in 1993, a leading supplier of e-paper display technology, which it calls low-power LCD technology.
LCI scientists recently made advances in electrophoresis, where an applied electronic field is used to move particles dispersed in a fluid, a technique fundamental to the operation of an e-paper display. The researchers found a way to use a liquid crystal as the carrier fluid, enabling both direct and alternating electric fields to move charged or zero charged particles. The breakthrough, reported in Nature journal in October 2010, could advance display, as well as other fields such as biosciences.
The FlexMatters cluster also benefits from innovative manufacturing businesses. One of these is Sheffield Metals International, a steel processor that has begun producing roofing laminated with thin-film solar panels to target growing demand for building-integrated photovoltaics products.