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4 February, 2015 - 15:28 By Tony Quested

Plastic Logic’s spectacular rebirth

Plastic Logic CEO Indro Mukerjee

A new Cambridge company has been forged out of the innovation crucible of Plastic Logic with a suite of killer technologies tipped to disrupt multi-billion-dollar markets such as wearables and the Internet of Things.

In what Cambridge entrepreneur Hermann Hauser calls “a spectacular rebirth,” Plastic Logic CEO Indro Mukerjee (pictured above) has engineered FlexEnable Ltd – a stand-alone business firmly eyeing truly flexible electronics products and services for wearables and a broad range of industrial markets – that launches this week. Mukerjee will be chairman of the new board which is being created.

As the original Plastic Logic was a $100 million spin-out from Cavendish Laboratory 14 years ago, it would be wrong to call FlexEnable a startup but Mukerjee says the new venture has “start-up style” and has already been working with customers and partners.

He said FlexEnable had been built on its predecessor’s “full technology and patent portfolio and the talent of the staff” at its innovation hothouse in Cambridge.

Plastic Logic’s manufacturing entity in Dresden, Germany, which manufactures and sells a range of flexible, electrophoretic displays (EPD), will now be called Plastic Logic Germany, leaving FlexEnable as an independent UK company.

Business Weekly understands that Plastic Logic’s Russian investor, RUSNANO, is retaining an interest in both ventures. We also understand that Mukerjee has raised further significant amounts while in stealth – and that a fresh investor call for the new venture is set to get underway with RUSNANO’s blessing.

Mukerjee revealed that over the past two years, FlexEnable had developed and broadened “one of the most disruptive technologies of the new millennium, applying it to innovations including wearables and ‘internet of things’ (IoT) devices.”

The technology suite includes three world-firsts according to Mukerjee. FlexEnable has also cracked the holy grail of OLED technology – organic light-emitting devices.

He says FlexEnable has devised a range of new products, based on a stable and proven organic transistor technology platform, to facilitate “compelling flexible electronics-based products and assist in the transfer of concepts to volume manufacture.”

FlexEnable Flex OLED watch
World’s first fully flexible organic OLED watch - by FlexEnable

Customers include system builders, device makers, electronic-product companies and materials vendors. Customers and strategic partners can now tap into a technology suite building on over a decade of deep IP. Mukerjee says the technology is low-cost and environmentally friendly and, therefore, key to integrated, flexible electronics over both large and small surfaces.

He added: “The transistor technology, proven in a broad range of flexible display types from AMOLED to plastic LCD and flexible EPD and in flexible sensors, has been the enabling technology in a stream of breakthroughs.

“These include an all-plastic flexible AMOLED display; an image sensor on plastic; a graphene-based flexible display (all three world-firsts. The technology’s maturity and stability has been demonstrated through its successful industrialisation in a purpose-built factory for the manufacture of flexible EPDs.

“Our proprietary technology has many valuable applications for the innovations emerging today. Much heralded wearables, for example, will only truly become wearable when the devices can conform to the human body. FlexEnable’s bendable and lightweight technology makes this possible.

“For IoT devices, FlexEnable’s extremely thin, rugged and flexible electronics systems allow sensors to be placed where they are needed (as opposed to the limits set by traditional electronics), enabling an advanced connectivity of devices, systems, and services.”

Plastic LCD by FlexEneble
Image of first plastic LCD made by FlexEnable, Merck and Partners

FlexEnable is already generating revenues from licensing its technology and will now build the business through further licensing agreements, the creation of new products enabled by its IP and the fabless manufacture of products.

Mukerjee said the company has attracted interest from a range of strategic investors, some of whom are trialling the company’s technology in their products. Investment will be used to accelerate further technology development for a faster and deeper penetration of plastic electronics-enabled products in the market.

Hermann Hauser believes Mukerjee has engineered a potential world-beater in new age technology arenas. An investor in Plastic Logic since Day One, Dr Hauser said: “What Indro has done is absolutely brilliant. He is one of the best CEOs I have ever worked with.

“When I first invested there was a single transistor in Cavendish Lab that sometimes worked and sometimes didn’t. It has taken time to find the real value in the business but I believe Indro has now achieved that. The company enters the advanced wearables and IoT markets as a mature player and in a position of great strength.

“It brings us a long way from e-readers but every step the company has taken under Indro represents progress; none more so than conquering OLED. The main market is not ereaders even though we almost pulled off a spectacular success there.

“Plastic Logic started with $100m and the technology looked like an absolute world beater. We were actualy there with the ereader before many others with a successful launch in Las Vegas but the factory was not ready to get to the volume we needed and we ended up missing the opportunity. But Plastic Logic should not be criticised for what was very nearly a spectacular success.

“I applaud Indro’s focus – it is absolutely right not to do ereaders. It is absolutely sensational the way this man has turned the company around and the opportunity he has created by launching FlexEnable. He has changed the strategy, changed the technology – the business had none of these technologies before Indro’s arrival. He had to handle shareholders here, shareholders in Silicon Valley and shareholders in Russia and juggle so many balls in the air. And he has done it all.”

Super Smart Card by FlexEnable
FlexEnable Technology enables biometrics, displays and circuitry to be integrated into smart cards
without compromising flexibiltiy or form factor

FlexEnable’s technology at a glance

Not a million miles alien to the ARM model, FlexEnable offers partnerships which provide the ability to build or upgrade fabs to make flexible electronics from feasibility stage, through process design, implementation and upgrades. Users are able to create and source truly flexible electronics from design and prototyping, through to manufacturing (short run and volume). The partnerships also offer capability in terms of assessing products utilising new materials – basically enabling partners to assess and qualify new materials for flexible electronics.

Smart cards
FlexEnable technology allows higher security, higher functionality smart cards without compromising form factor or flexibility. It enables smart cards to include active matrix display, fingerprint sensors and logic on a single sheet of plastic. Programmable logic allows mass customisation and individual security features.

Imagine a smartphone with a wraparound display that opens out into a tablet – doubling the size of the device. FlexEnable’s ‘bend-round-corners’ flexible displays can be wrapped, rolled or folded in half to open up gamechanging levels of utility for mobile devices. The company offers toolkits and reference designs for OLED, LCD and EPD.

FlexEnable facilitates new paradigms in technology interaction with displays, sensors and smart systems that seamlessly integrate into what you wear. The company’s flexible displays and sensors follow the contours of your body and flex with your motion in a way that is not possible with conventional rigid electronics.

Surface displays and sensors
Users can seamlessly integrate displays and sensors into complex surfaces to achieve the ultimate combination of form and function. FlexEnable’s surface displays and sensors will enable the next significant step in car and aircraft interior design and can be formed into complex curves and irregular shapes so that surfaces anywhere can become intelligent and interactive

Medical and industrial imaging 
Users can take imaging capability to the person or the in-situ object by replacing glass-based sensors with thin, light and unbreakable flexible sensor panels. FlexEnable’s flexible X-ray sensors can conform to the body or the object, to improve comfort and quality. They are easily transportable and rugged, for use in harsh in-situ environments.

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