Opportunities for metal mesh, silver nanowires, carbon nanotubes, graphene and other non-ITO transparent conductive films in the touch display industry and elsewhere

The touch panel sector, which has been growing explosively over the past decade, offers tremendous opportunities for new materials and next-generation technologies, but only if developers can accurately grasp market requirements, and identify the sweet spots for their products and services. Jennifer Colegrove, industry analyst and founder of Touch Display Research, has been covering the market in detail since 2006. In this guest post for TMR+, she looks at how the sector has matured, explains why ITO transparent conductive films (TCFs) remain dominant despite their disadvantages and assesses the prospects for new materials.

Overview 2006 – 2020
Touch Display Research forecasts that the touch module revenue will reach $36 billion by 2020, from just $2 billion in 2006.

Figure 1. Touch Module Market Forecast (Image credit: Touch Display Research).

Figure 1. Touch Module Market Forecast (Image credit: Touch Display Research).

Touch screen suppliers, especially those providing projected capacitive touch modules – a popular choice for smart phones and tablets as the technology supports multi-touch gestures – have been mostly profitable during 2007 and 2009. But fast forward to 2016 and the competition is fierce with many touch screen suppliers encountering net losses in recent years as manufacturing capacity has outstripped demand, pushing down panel prices. To become a leader or maintain a leadership position in today’s touch industry, providers need to enhance their offering to customers and introduce new features to drive profits. Continue reading

Nanofabrication expert wins IOP award for translational physics research

A guest post for TMR+ by Douglas Paul, professor of semiconductor devices at the University of Glasgow and director of the James Watt Nanofabrication Centre

Douglas Paul was awarded the President’s Medal at the Institute of Physics (IOP) awards dinner on 15 October, in recognition of his achievements in translating physics research into advanced technology.

Acceptance speech

Madam President, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen, colleagues

I am extremely honoured to be standing here and accepting the President’s medal from the Institute of Physics.

After seeing past recipients have included Brian Cox, Tim Berners-Lee, Michael Atiyah and Lord Dainton you are probably all wondering who is Douglas Paul and why is he getting the President’s Medal?

I have always modelled my career on Louis Pasteur – undertaking research to solve major problems that at some level benefit society. This has not always got publications in the high impact journals that is required to advance ones career, but it has allowed me to interact with an enormous number of UK and international companies.

My PhD at Cambridge and my first funded research grant were both about finding ways to reduce the power consumption of the transistors in microchips. This work on strained-Si MOSFETs is now in every major microprocessor being produced today. I was one of the first to suggest straining channels but lost the race to be first to deliver high performance devices. The experience taught me a lot!

The EC funding for the work press-ganged me into compiling the Technology Roadmap for European Nanoelectronics in 1999. I had little idea it was going to be taken into the industrial International Technology Roadmap of Semiconductors forming the first Future Emerging Technologies chapter in 2005.

This got me my first interaction with the IOP when I ended up in the House of Lord’s giving evidence to the House of Lord’s Enquiry into “Chips for Everything” in May 2002. Later I became a member of the Science Board and helped to lobby government on science policy.

David King whilst GCSA to Tony Blair brought me into the Home Office CBRN Scientific Advisory Committee in 2004 after I had written a DTI report on security and medical imaging along with having DARPA funding for THz work.

Little did I realise when I said yes to being on this committee that it would be involved in the 7/7 bombing reviews, shoot to kill policy, airports liquids ban, Litvinenko and many other incidents not in the public domain.

I am frequently asked why a physicist is involved in so much security? National security requires technology that can detect threats – either imaging technology or sensors. The science is heavily based on quantum mechanics and electromagnetism and so physicists are essential to the National Security of the UK.

We have many examples of physicists in security in this room. Our President Francis Saunders, a physicist ended up as the Chief Executive of the UK’s Defence Scientific Technology Laboratory and Peter Knight who is also here tonight and a former president has chaired the MOD’s Defence Scientific Advisory Council (DSAC).

Indeed it was Peter who interviewed me when I became a member of MOD’s DSAC and we walked around Warminster with full body armour and a half pack to understand the problems dismounted solders were facing in Afganhistan. I have pushed with others trying to get a modern science and engineering capability around MOD and DSTL that can provide the UK with the scientific capability to meet the threats of tomorrow.

In 2007 I moved to Glasgow so that I could get access to a far better cleanroom for research than any of the ones in Cambridge. Three years later I became the Director of that cleanroom, the James Watt Nanofabrication Centre and within 2 weeks of landing the job had to develop a strategy and business plan to drive it forward.

It has been a delight to be Director and publicise some of the original research of my colleagues including the first directed STEM cell growth using nanopatterns – now in clinical trials for self-repairing hip-joint replacements, lab-on-a-pill (now spun out into a prostate cancer probe start-up) and the development of 10 nm III-V CMOS which may well be in everyone’s computers in 2019.

In the last 10 years, the James Watt Nanofabrication Centre has collaborated with over 288 companies in 28 countries worldwide including 12 of the top 20 semiconductor companies and 48 of the international universities in the Times Higher Education Top 100 International Universities list. We have also become two national facilities, one for EPSRC and one for STFC plus we are now a strategic partner of DSTL and have been a major supplier to NPL in a range of areas including their atomic clock work. Indeed most of the pretty pictures of magneto-optical traps and Penning traps from NPL published in the FT and elsewhere have been devices made in the cleanroom at Glasgow.

The UK has been particularly poor at translating research into products. At present, most UK academics get far better rewards from the Research Excellence Framework and their universities for a Nature or Science publication than for transferring IP into a UK company. Until this is changed and translating IP has a larger value than publications then Great Britain will only be great at science and will not be great at translating the science into products that help the British companies and the British economy that actually funds the research in the universities.

Studying Physics has been a great enjoyment and allowed me to pursue research, but also provide a service to society by advising Government Ministers about National Security. But research is my first love and at the moment I am still having great fun playing with phonon and electron bandgaps to engineer improved thermoelectrics to harvest waste heat from cars to reduce CO2 emissions and trying to detect utilities under the street through making gradiometers with MEMS and Si photonics technology to reduce roadwork delays.

As I stand between everyone and dinner, I will stop here but leave you with a poem that I have had on the wall of my office for many years and has really been the vision and inspiration to keep me going, especially on those difficult days when it appears none of the research seems to be moving forward.


Not to say what everyone else was saying
not to believe what everyone else believed
not to do what everybody did.
then to refute what everyone else was saying
then to disprove what everyone else believed
then to deprecate what everybody did,

was his way to come by understanding

how everyone else was saying the same as he was saying
believing what he believed
and did what doing.

Clere Parsons (1908 – 1931)

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‘Work with us’, IOP president tells physics community in Awards Dinner speech (IOP)

From the lab to the factory floor: financial tools for upscaling production of nanomaterials

A guest post for TMR+ by Tom Eldridge, co-founder of Fullerex

Commodity exchanges have existed for hundreds of years, driving economic growth through efficient and structured marketplaces. The success of these exchanges can be attributed to several key advantages that a market-based system provides participants over other channels of trade, which include – regulatory supervision, trade order and discipline (irrevocable agreements for sale/purchase of goods and materials), access to liquidity, reduction in costs associated with trade, price discovery, the ability to hedge and financing of production through forward sale.

In the market for nanomaterials, despite the considerable promise for various commercial applications, integration by industry has up to now been slow progress. This is due to a range of factors such as uncertainty through health, safety and regulatory issues; lack of agreed material standards; price confusion for buyers; supply insecurity; and often sparse sources of financing for producers.

To address these concerns, the Integrated Nanoscience and Commodity Exchange (INSCX exchange) was established in 2009 through a collaboration between experts in nanoscience and the securities and commodity industry; and in the following year commenced a live marketplace pertaining to nanomaterials.

Since then INSCX exchange, which is a member of the NanoCentral alliance of specialist providers in nanoscience, has driven hitherto non-existent trade interest in nanomaterials and nano-enabled products (such as catalysts, coatings, fertilizers, fuel and oil additives, etc…) by engaging producer/end-user interaction and more importantly by providing nanomaterials producers with the financial tools to be able to respond.

Crossing the funding chasm
Most start-up technology companies experience a funding chasm with few options available between securing initial capital contributions for R&D and moving beyond this stage into commercial production. Upscaling from lab to factory floor is a capital intensive process and at the early stage of business, with little or no revenues, this leaves start-up companies vulnerable to cash flow problems.

Establishing a steady revenue stream often requires high throughput to drive down unit cost and enable businesses to attract large buy orders in the first instance. Producer firms engaging in the exchange’s forward sale mechanism can use this process to manage cash-flow and/or achieve upscale financing.

Rather than relying on external sources of funding such as debt or equity that can be costly and/or dilute ownership, materials producers can use the exchange to mobilise capital from industry and develop their business with sustainable and organic growth.

Small to medium sized enterprises producing and supplying nanomaterials also have the challenge of prioritising development objectives and building successful trade relationships. In a centralised marketplace, these difficulties are more easily overcome since demand for materials is readily accessed and understood (qualified and quantified).

For nanomaterials producers the exchange is not to be regarded as anything other than a mechanism designed to complement the efforts of a producer to win sales, develop new product solutions and to enable essential commercial compliances to be adhered to in trade.

From the perspective of a start-up or early-stage company, benefits of trading on the exchange include:

  • EHS accreditation
  • IP protection
  • Trade insurance
  • Downstream Audit Sequence (DAS) track/trace system
  • Upscale financing facility
  • Trade with existing and/or new customers

Getting to grips with the concept
The exchange system however is not to be confused with a standard distribution agreement (which many nanomaterial producers have found either non-performing and/or expensive in terms of margin), but rather a market system, which generates an income for itself and authorized intermediaries such as Fullerex through trade clearing fees (set at a maximum of 1% of the financial consideration of each trade).

Exchange rules governing agency trade (where a merchant – trade member – of the exchange is acting for a producer or end-user) are bound by the principle of best execution. Over-loading and/or under-cutting of material pricing is strictly prohibited by the exchange. The role of the market system is to broadcast price as instructed.

[Note: Fullerex wishes to make clear that all trade in listed nanomaterials on the INSCX exchange remains for commercial supply and end-use purposes only.]