Has the UK’s plastic electronics sector been slow out of the starting blocks?

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At the end of 2009, the Government announced a strategy to nurture the growth of the UK's plastic electronics sector. It seemed timely: although the UK was perceived to have the global lead in the fundamentals of plastic electronics, it was felt that technology wasn't getting out of the lab.

There was a very good reason for targeting plastic electronics: the market was predicted to exceed $100billion a year by 2020. The strategy was intended to ensure the UK got a significant share of the business; not only in terms of design, but also manufacture. Lord Mandelson, Secretary of State for Business, Industry and Skills (BIS) at the time, said: "The UK has huge potential for leadership in plastic electronics. We must make sure we don't lose our world lead and we need a road map to take the sector forward from leading edge to the mass market." Fast forward, as they say. Has the UK's plastic electronics sector developed as anticipated? A fair amount of cash has been put into plastic electronics, but it's hard to say whether the UK's 'leading position' has been reinforced or not. Nevertheless, the Government remains committed to plastic electronics. The latest injection of funding is £5.6million from BIS to create the EPSRC Centre for Innovative Manufacturing in Large Area Electronics. Large area electronics, you may have guessed, is another name for plastic electronics. The centre brings together four specialist universities to tackle the research challenges involved in supporting the emergence of a 'vibrant' UK large area electronics manufacturing industry. When the plastic electronics strategy was launched, it was recognised that all would be for naught if designers didn't think about integrating plastic electronics elements in their products. But have they? It's the old 'chicken and egg' problem; until people start designing in plastic electronics functionality, there will be no need for manufacture and there will be need for manufacturing capacity without products being designed.