In a move aimed at protecting the UK's perceived global leadership in plastic electronics, the Department for Business, Innovations and Skills (BIS) has launched a strategy document that is intended to grow the technology.
The document, called Plastic Electronics: A UK Strategy for Success
– outlines how the industry should deal with a number of challenges. Top of the list is the fact that plastic electronics not only cuts across a range of disciplines, but also a range of interests – from universities to the private sector by way of all stops in between. Layered on this is a potential gap between R&D work and end users.
Secretary of State Lord Mandelson 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."
The document recommends the establishment of a Plastic Electronics Leadership Group to champion the needs of the sector and to raise its profile. In most respects, the PELG will be expected to perform a similar role to the Electronics Leadership Council, bringing together a range of interests to coordinate activities in the sector.
Speaking exclusively with New Electronics
, Secretary of State Lord Mandelson said: "Our new strategy document identifies five main challenges facing the sector, which the new Plastic Electronics Leadership Group will work to address. But prioritising these challenges is not easy – every organisation active in the sector would recognise the significance of each, but would probably rank them differently depending on their own position in the value chain; the scale and maturity of their business and the markets they focus on.
"Many parts of the embryonic supply chain are present in the UK and, together with recent investments, this puts us in a strong position to develop new products and exploit the commercial value of the technology. The vision within our new strategy is for the UK to build on these foundations and be a world leader as the markets develop."
In particular, Lord Mandelson is concerned that the UK doesn't find itself left behind. "We have to make sure the most sophisticated things are manufactured in the UK and that means keeping ahead of the curve."
He gave the example of composite materials in the early 1990s. "We were ahead, but Germany and Spain made the investments and things are now tipping in their direction."
Supporting such innovation means Government needs to invest to make sure the necessary skills and infrastructure are in place. "This is something Government shouldn't stand back from. We need active Government intervention to put in place the platforms that support the rest of the economy – particularly at the leading edge, with technologies that are disruptive and have the capability to revolutionise entire industries."
Concluding, Lord Mandelson said: "This package will help UK pioneers in plastic electronics to unleash the potential of the technology. Government investment in this sector isn't a gamble; it's been proven already. Plastic electronics is worth a huge amount of effort to ensure the technology drives UK growth, rather than that of other countries. We have to compete with the best and will do so on the basis of a first class road map."