Yesterday, Plastic Logic officially opened a new plant in Dresden, Germany for manufacturing ePaper displays.
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The display’s front plane is based on E Ink’s now familiar micro-encapsulated electrophoretic technology. It’s the backplane that’s unique. First, the backplane is made of a highly flexible polymer. Second, the backplane’s thin-film transistors are made of an organic material, not silicon. The combination is important, because the process for fabricating the organic TFTs uses a low enough temperature to be compatible with the polymer substrate. The existence of this technology is certainly not a secret, and Plastic Logic has been showing versions of it at SID and elsewhere for some time. But now, it’s ready for volume production.
The opening of the Dresden plant is significant beyond what it means to Plastic Logic. This is the world’s first commercial-scale plastic-electronics manufacturing facility. "Today marks an extraordinary achievement for our company and the plastic electronics industry," Plastic Logic CEO Richard Archuleta said to a dignitary-rich crowd in Dresden yesterday. "It also marks a major milestone in preparation for the delivery of our first consumer electronics product early next year."
Wait a minute. Did he say "consumer product?" Yes he did.
Plastic Logic Marketing VP Joseph Eschbach called me from Dresden this morning to fill me in. The company will market an electronic reading device - which is not being called an electronic book reader, at least not yet, because the company wants to emphasize the product’s usefulness for business rather than recreational reading. The display will come from Dresden, with the readers manufactured by EMS providers around the world. Manufacturing capacity will be in the hundreds of thousands for 2009, Eschbach said, with a Plastic Logic-branded product entering the market in Q2′09.
The Plastic Logic reader will have a larger display than its best-known competitors, the Sony Reader and Amazon Kindle. The display is 10.7 inches on the diagonal, and the overall device is 8½ x 11 inches. The display itself "is as thin as a sheet of paper," and the complete reader is less than 7mm thick. The display is very flexible, but the reader will be "flexible for robustness." Eschbach said customers told Plastic Logic they wanted a product that would be rigid enough to be held conveniently, but flexible enough to be stuffed in a briefcase without concern. I interpret this to mean it will be possible to bend the reader into a noticeable arc but it will not flap in a stiff breeze.
Eschbach also commented that batteries and electronic boards are far less flexible than the Plastic Logic display, so a foldable or rollable display will have to wait for progress from other segments of the electronics industry.
The Plastic Logic reader will also be differentiated from its competitors by a multi-touch touch screen that will cover the entire 8½-by-11-inch surface. The touch screen will provide a gestural interface and the ability to mark up documents. Marked documents can be saved and returned to their originators via wired and wireless connections, which can also be used for downloading content.
And the product will be an "open platform." That is, the reader will be able to read documents in standard formats — such as Word, PDF, Excel and Powerpoint — directly, with no need to translate them into a proprietary format.
The ASP will be announced early in 2009, but Eschbach said the price will be competitive with that of competing products. With a larger display, multi-touch screen, gestural interface, mark-up capability, open platform, thinner package and "flexibility for robustness," all at a comparable price, the Plastic Logic reader should be a formidable product.