UK firm will build plastic displays in new factory

Plastic Logic Ltd. will build a factory in Dresden, Germany, to manufacture flexible, plastic computer displays with three times the viewing area of glass screens of the same weight, the company said Wednesday.

Vendors will use the active-matrix displays to create digital reading products that are nearly as thin and flexible as paper, according to a statement from John Mills, the chief operating officer of Plastic Logic, which is based in Cambridge, U.K. Combined with wireless connectivity and efficient battery management, users will be able to read thousands of pages of a book or a newspaper in locations such as a beach or a moving train, Mills said.

To build the facility, Plastic Logic has raised US$100 million in venture funding from firms including Intel Capital, an arm of chip-maker Intel Corp., and other venture capital groups such as Oak Investment Partners and Tudor Investment Corp.

Intel’s involvement signals a vote of support from the world’s largest semiconductor vendor, which builds its electronics with standard silicon. The companies could someday be rivals since Plastic Logic predicts that building chips and displays from plastic could dramatically cut their cost thanks to high volume production.

Plastic Logic’s new factory will have an initial capacity of more than 1 million displays modules per year, beginning in 2008. The company expects demand for the units to reach 41.6 million units in 2010, creating a market worth $30 billion by 2015 and $250 billion by 2025.

Manufacturers of TFT (thin film transistor) displays currently make the units by depositing silicon on a plate of rigid glass, but the new factory will create TFTs by layering semiconductor polymers onto flexible plastic sheets. The company could eventually use the same technique to create other plastic electronic components, such as sensors and video screens.

Plastic Logic hopes to increase the resolution of its displays to overcome consumers’ reluctance to read lengthy content on laptop PCs, phones and handheld PDAs (personal digital assistants).

In an October trade show, the company demonstrated a Super Video Graphics Array (SVGA) quality, 600-by-800 pixel, flexible active-matrix display it had created on a prototype production line in Cambridge. The company plans to improve the quality of its plastic displays from 150 pixels-per-inch, 16-shade greyscale in 2008 to 20 dots-per-inch, 4,096-color screens in 2010 and full video ability by 2012.

Plastic Logic has grown to include 60 employees since researchers at England’s Cambridge University spun it off as a startup in 2000.

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