Daily Bulletin

Daily Bulletin

The Conversation

  • Written by Drew Evans, Associate Professor of Energy & Advanced Manufacturing, Australian Research Council Future Fellow, University of South Australia

Imagine the day when you’ll unroll or unfold your smartphone to answer it. If things go to plan, this day may be sooner than you think.

And we’re not just talking flip-phones here, but smartphones where the actual screens are flexible, not just the handset.

Okay, so Samsung’s plans to launch its Galaxy Fold phone might be on hold after a few early reviews reported cracks in the screen, but 2019 is said to be a year when many of the major mobile phone manufacturers aim to release their new foldable phones.

Can we bend it? The challenge for Samsung and others to make flexible technology Samsung Galaxy Fold on hold. Samsung/Screenshot, CC BY-NC-ND

The promise of technology as intelligent as our smartphones that can simply be folded up like a piece of paper sounds amazing. So what are the challenges in making flexible technology?

How flexible?

To answer this we need to understand what is meant by flexible.

Do we need something that can be deformed without breaking (so it’s okay if you sit on your phone, as it will only bend and not break)? Maybe we want to roll it up into a cylinder with the ease of rolling a piece of paper? Or even to fold it like the Galaxy Fold?

Can we bend it? The challenge for Samsung and others to make flexible technology The cracked glass of a smartphone, sitting on the device is the usual cause. Flickr/John Garghan, CC BY-NC-ND

These are very different scenarios, with each putting a greater performance requirement on the device and the materials within.

Are the materials brittle? Or are they inherently flexible? And when they are bent, rolled, flexed or folded, do they continue to work the way they did when flat?

These are the questions many scientists and engineers are asking. Enter the world of materials science, mixed with a dose of advanced manufacturing.

The glass

Consumer electronics traditionally use materials designed for use on rigid glass substrates, or surfaces. The beauty of glass is its rigidity and thermal stability, and can be made on commercial scales.

That means it will rarely bend or flex, and can be heated to high temperatures. These are important factors when manufacturing an electronic device - especially those with a flat panel display.

To make an electronic device, complex patterns of materials need to be made to create an electronic circuit. In some cases the patterns will have features smaller than the width of your hair, even down to the size of viruses (less than 100 nanometers). Producing such patterned coatings of high-performance electronic materials can be done easily on glass at temperatures greater than 500℃.

But when flexibility is required, the substrate needs to change. The obvious choices are polymers and plastics. Thin sheets of these materials can be manipulated into a range of different shapes without breaking.

But not many of these plastics can withstand greater than 500℃ during processing.

New developments from companies such as Corning Incorporated in the US have made special types of thin glass that are bendable.

Bendable glass may be one of many steps towards flexible electronics. But, as we’ll see later, maybe even bendable glass is not that useful for some applications.

The electronics

Beyond the substrate, there are still challenges for the electronic materials themselves. Modern electronics are built on metals and ceramics that require very high temperatures to be fabricated into electrical circuits, and are not ideal for bending.

Polymers such as Nylon, Teflon and polyester are inherently flexible and can be bent, folded or rolled. But polymers are usually insulators (they don’t conduct electricity) and they really do not like being heated too high.

That is why efforts are being made to engineer polymers that are conductive (conducting polymers). Being conductive means that the polymers can transport electrical charge with ease - like your charging cable carries electricity from the power outlet to your portable device’s battery. In parallel engineers are changing the way the existing and new materials are manufactured.

Can we bend it? The challenge for Samsung and others to make flexible technology Flexible electronics: An example of polymers that conduct electricity, fabricated as an electrical circuit on a flexible substrate using inkjet printing. Kamil Zuber, Author provided

Manufacturing is moving away from high temperatures in large coating machines, into things similar to inkjet and roll-to-roll printing (printed electronics). Soon your new mobile phone may be printed at high speed in a similar way to a daily newspaper.

But should we bend tech?

Tackling these technical challenges of materials and manufacturing seems within reach. But why do we want flexible technology?

Sure there are some of us that dream of a flat panel TV that can be rolled and unrolled, mounting anywhere we like. Think about it as an electronic poster being hung on your bedroom wall and flexible TVs are almost here - in 2018 LG showcased a 65 inch rollable TV.

Watch it unfold.

Beyond this there are some neat advantages to flexible technology. There is a big drive towards integrating electronics with biology in the ultimate wearable computer.

As we know, our skin (and everything contained within it) is to some degree soft, flexible and elastic. Having flexible technology would allow our wearable computers to seamlessly integrate with us. This will be done so well that we won’t realise we are wearing it.

Glass as a substrate, even if flexible, won’t fulfil the desire to interface with biology. This is because it lacks the softness and deformability to react to the bodies movement.

On the other side of it, the contact lens is made of materials that many people routinely wear on a daily basis (with hopefully little annoyance).

So what about electronics on these soft gel-like substrates? An example of efforts to achieve this is work done by Madhu Bhaskaran and team at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology.

Read more: How to take better photos with your smartphone, thanks to computational photography

They are developing electronics that can be worn like a temporary tattoo, giving wearers real-time data about UV exposure. Some companies are even developing electronics directly on a contact lens.

But similar to the Samsung Galaxy Fold, the electronic contact lens project has been paused, the early results from testing are not up to scratch at the moment.

But sometime in the (near) future I believe we will have flexible technologies in our daily lives. This will represent major breakthroughs in the materials and manufacturing used to create them. Most exciting is by achieving this, opportunities will open to interface the physical and cyber worlds to a level we can today only imagine.

Authors: Drew Evans, Associate Professor of Energy & Advanced Manufacturing, Australian Research Council Future Fellow, University of South Australia

Read more http://theconversation.com/can-we-bend-it-the-challenge-for-samsung-and-others-to-make-flexible-technology-116270

Writers Wanted

Schitt's Creek: the TV show has been showered with Emmys but is it worth the hype?


COVID-19 and small island nations: what we can learn from New Zealand and Iceland


'If JobSeeker was cut, the unemployed would be picking fruit'? Why that's not true


The Conversation


Did BLM Really Change the US Police Work?

The Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement has proven that the power of the state rests in the hands of the people it governs. Following the death of 46-year-old black American George Floyd in a case of ...

a Guest Writer - avatar a Guest Writer

Scott Morrison: the right man at the right time

Australia is not at war with another nation or ideology in August 2020 but the nation is in conflict. There are serious threats from China and there are many challenges flowing from the pandemic tha...

Greg Rogers - avatar Greg Rogers

Prime Minister National Cabinet Statement

The National Cabinet met today to discuss Australia’s COVID-19 response, the Victoria outbreak, easing restrictions, helping Australians prepare to go back to work in a COVID-safe environment an...

Scott Morrison - avatar Scott Morrison

Business News

Ten tips for landing a freelance transcription job

Transcription jobs are known to be popular in the field of freelancing. They offer fantastic job opportunities to a lot of people, but there are some scammers who wait to cheat the freelancers. ...

News Company - avatar News Company

How To Remove Rubbish More Effectively

It can be a big task to remove household rubbish. The hardest part is finding the best way to get rid of your junk. It can be very overwhelming to know exactly where to start with so many option...

News Company - avatar News Company

4 Tips To Pass Skills Certifications Tests

Developing the right set of skills is valuable not only to your career, but for life in general. You can get certified in these skills through obtaining a license. Without a certified license, y...

News Company - avatar News Company

News Company Media Core

Content & Technology Connecting Global Audiences

More Information - Less Opinion