When Plastic Logic announced its new business strategy on 16 May 2012, reactions were mixed.
The announcement is a welcome move away from the start-up trying to do everything itself as a 'vertically integrated company' - launching a product like the Que business reader under its own brand name, or the PL100 e-reader for the education market - to a more collaborative approach, better suited to a business looking to get its plastic electronic technology integrated into products.
Yet reactions among the media were varied: accusing Plastic Logic of exiting an 'e-reader business it never really managed to enter,' as well as highlighting the closure of its US offices as part of a subsequent restructure of the business (the Financial Times announced'Plastic Logic to shut US operations').
Plastic Logic CEO Indro Mukerjee, who took the position in September 2011, remarks: 'Plastic Logic is fundamentally a technology company, looking to identify specific areas where this technology can add value to products. Yet people have responded to our change in strategy as though we've done something strange or wrong by not being an e-reader business.'
The new strategy moves away from the efforts to make a device available to consumers based on flexible e-paper - albeit encased in a rigid device - which peaked with the aborted attempt to launch the Que in 2009. This was followed up by trials of a robust e-reader for schools, trialled in Russia during 2011.
The change draws the company away from aspects of providing a consumer electronics product, to making its scaled production of organic electronics and flexible displays accessible to many potential integrators in various applications.
Mukerjee adds: 'Up to now we've been vertically integrated, covering every aspect from the polymer electronics to cloud services, for instance.
'Now we can focus on being a partner that supplies flexible displays and electronics - and, where appropriate, setting up licensing deals.'
Having also announced substantial technology milestones for organic electronics in May, the company's new openness provides a ripe opportunity for flexible displays to be exploited commercially. Upcoming technology days at its Cambridge, UK R&D facilities and manufacturing facility in Dresden, Germany, will bring potential partners closer to the company's innovations.
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Plastic Logic announced manufacturing yields at its Dresden facility that are comparable to the highly industrialised LCD industry. The company has also accelerated development in areas like colour for flexible e-paper displays and the lifetime of devices.
Mukerjee notes: 'When I started at Plastic Logic our original timeline for colour was 2014. I specifically wanted us to be able to demonstrate colour earlier and faster - we've now done that, and it can be seen in a production environment.
'We also demonstrated products that can manage 10 million page updates and have synthesised five-year lifetimes.'
With mature devices that can readily be manufactured at commercial scales and quality, the future for Plastic Logic - and for the plastic electronics industry - looks positive, despite some of the media response. The company is now equipped to deliver flexible displays to partners, which could realise the long-awaited concepts of integrated, flexible electronics.
Mukerjee says: 'There are very exciting discussions taking place with brand name customers for flexible e-paper. There are also a number of a-reader companies approaching us for elemental screen technology parts.
'Companies looking to use flexible displays will ask, "What are the yields? And can you supply it in volume?" We can respond positively to both - in fact we can suggest running some prototypes and putting them in field trials for the customer immediately.'
While Plastic Logic's profile as an innovator in the e-reader space was well-recognised under its previous, Que-led strategy, the return to focus on the company's electronics expertise could be momentous for the implementation of flexible displays.
Mukerjee concludes: 'We want to show a clear roadmap for display technology. E-readers are only the start of the revolution, not the end.'
Read the full interview with Indro Mukerjee and analysis of Plastic Logic's new business strategy in the next issue of +Plastic Electronics magazine. Subscribe now.
Documents and links
Website for Plastic Logic which is commercialising an e-reader aimed at business and corporate users
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