In 2015, the EPSRC Centre for Innovative Manufacturing in Large Area Electronics held a design competition with product design students at Central St Martins, University of the Arts London. Students submitted product concepts that would display the power and flexibility of LAE in an easy-to-use, attractive and compelling way. With the support of a number of industry partners, we have now developed a working demonstrator based on the submitted concept of an ‘Interactive Sample Book’.
The resulting FlexBook is a A4-sized portfolio which contains pages featuring printed functional elements that allow the user to interact with the page. It is an outreach tool intended to demonstrate to engineers, designers and product managers how printed, flexible and large-area electronics (PFLAE) can currently be practically applied in manufactured products. PFLAE is not one single technology, but rather a range of manufacturing technologies that are different from those used in the manufacture of “conventional” electronics (laminated PCBs, silicon wafer production, high temperature processing). PFLAE manufacturing technologies typically use additive methods (printing) to deposit functional materials onto thin plastic substrates.
PFLAE methods are most valuable for applications that:
- Require flexible, thin circuits for which conventional SMT components are not suitable
- Require elements that have a large surface area but only limited complexity (e.g. large sensing or display areas)
- Require low circuit complexity coupled with extremely low cost at high production volumes (e.g. disposable circuits)
For many applications, a hybrid approach integrating PFLAE and conventional electronics is likely to be the best approach. This approach is taken in FlexBook: The loose-leaf PFLAE pages in the ring binder are connected to rigid companion electronics placed on the inside front cover.
FlexBook is made possible by the support of the following industrial partners.