The development of flexible integrated circuits based on thin-film transistors

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Abstract

The use of thin-film transistors in liquid-crystal display applications was commercialized about 30 years ago. The key advantages of thin-film transistor technologies compared with traditional silicon complementary metal–oxide–semiconductor(CMOS) transistors are their ability to be manufactured on large substrates at low-cost per unit area and at low processing temperatures, which allows them to be directly integrated onto a variety of flexible substrates. Here, I discuss the potential of thin-film transistor technologies in the development of low-cost, flexible integrated circuits for applications beyond flat-panel displays, including the Internet of Things and lightweight wearable electronics. Focusing on the relatively mature thin-film transistor technologies that are available in semiconductor fabrication plants today, the different technologies are evaluated in terms of their potential circuit applications and the implications they will have in the design of integrated circuits, from basic logic gates to more complex digital and analogue systems. I also discuss microprocessors and non-silicon, near-field communication tags that can communicate with smartphones, and I propose the concept of a Moore’s law for flexible electronics.

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Fig. 1: Examples of flexible electronics and their applications.
Fig. 2: Predicted impact of TFT technology parameters on power consumption and logic styles.
Fig. 3: Optimization of single-gate pseudo-CMOS logic gates for power and speed.
Fig. 4: Design of the IGZO NFC barcode foil.

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Acknowledgements

This work received funding from the European Research Council under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement no. 716426 (FLICs project). This work was performed in collaboration between Imec and the Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research (TNO) in the frame of the HOLST Centre. K.M. also acknowledges his co-workers for their valuable contributions to this work.

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Correspondence to Kris Myny.

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Myny, K. The development of flexible integrated circuits based on thin-film transistors. Nat Electron 1, 30–39 (2018) doi:10.1038/s41928-017-0008-6

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