Large area microelectronics is a subdivision of electronics based on substantial integration of electronic elements on nebulous substrates, which normally engenders large-sized products with lengths that vary from a few centimetres as in sensors, to a few decimetres as in lighting and displays, to several meters as in panels based on organic solar cell technology. Flexible microelectronics, on the other hand, is a section of electronics dealing with miniature components.
Large area and flexible electronics together form a promising branch of technology as they can incorporate intelligence to a number of objects. In the age of IoT/IoE, advanced manufacturing, energy efficiency and sustainability, large area and flexible electronics has a ground-breaking potential as it offers innovative product concepts that entail low energy consumption, low cost of production and eco-friendly materials.
The ever-increasing adoption of smart devices and internet usage is playing a key role in reinforcing the development of large area and flexible microelectronics technologies. The industry is witnessing a steady pace of innovation as the demand for energy-efficient and inexpensive smart devices that facilitate reliable and high-speed data connectivity is on the rise. Soon, technological advancements will boost the adoption of encapsulation technologies, near-field communication (NFC) technologies, wireless charging, organic LED display screens, and smart haptics to transform gadgets.
According to a Frost & Sullivan 2015 study, the following microelectronics technologies will gain prominence: transparent display, smart lighting, brain-computer interface, wireless charging of multiple gadgets in a short distance radius, NFC, encapsulation technologies, smart touch or haptics, wearable devices, solid-state lighting, and flexible electronics.
Healthcare: Large area and flexible microelectronics have potentiality in medical implants and medical monitoring devices. For example, medical implants operating with the help of biometric sensors are capable of keeping an eye on various biological functions besides diagnosing illnesses. This technology also finds applications in safe packaging of pharmaceutical products and for monitoring the distribution of fake drugs.
Flexible electronics: Stretchable and bendable microelectronic devices have potential applications. Researchers at the University of Illinois have developed stretchable ‘skin-wearable circuits’ containing powerful sensors that are capable of monitoring the functions of your body to warn you about brain and heart ailments.
Clothing industry: Flexible microelectronics can create smart textiles or fabrics that can modify their characteristics in accordance with the external stimuli: be it biological, chemical, thermal, electrical or mechanical. For example, battery charger integrated clothes that can charge portable devices can prove useful for defence applications and outdoor entertainment equally.
Architecture and energy: Large area and flexible microelectronics can allocate energy production via organic solar cells on roofs, windows and internal objects for producing light within buildings. The indoor light panel on ceilings and walls can be amalgamated with the structural design of the building.
Communication and transport: Applications that involve smart labels for identification of objects are in demand. These can be useful for railway inventory, passenger listing and ticketing, airport luggage sorting, etc.
Large area and flexible microelectronics offers opportunity in several domains of science and engineering, but Indian industry and academics seem to be oblivious to its significance. Conversely, compared to other streams of science and technology, microelectronics is gaining impetus globally.
If you want to make your career in this field, you need to pursue a Bachelor’s degree in Microelectronics to acquire basic understanding about micro and macro electronics. Large area and flexible microelectronics engineers should be proficient in sketching plans and creating prototypes of circuit boards, circuit chips and semiconductors, besides having a comprehensive understanding of electronics and mechanical systems for creating samples of novel designs. They should be proficient in material science and technical writing for preparing semiconductor reports. They also need to have interpretation skills for reading, preparing and assembling progress reports.
Though a career in this field has not been fully explored in India, it is one of the high paid jobs even in our country. Since a nation’s progress depends on its ability to leverage advanced technologies, the government is encouraging engineering aspirants to take up this field of study.
The author, Prof BS Satyanarayana is vice-chancellor of BML Munjal University. Views are personal