Imagine the day when you’ll unroll or unfold your smartphone to answer it.
If things go to plan, this day may be sooner than you think.
And we’re not just talking flip-phones here, but smartphones where the actual screens are flexible, not just the handset.
Okay, so Samsung’s plans to launch its Galaxy Fold phone might be on hold after a few early reviews reported cracks in the screen, but 2019 is said to be a year when many of the major mobile phone manufacturers aim to release their new foldable phones.
The promise of technology as intelligent as our smartphones that can simply be folded up like a piece of paper sounds amazing. So what are the challenges in making flexible technology?
To answer this we need to understand what is meant by flexible.
Do we need something that can be deformed without breaking (so it’s okay if you sit on your phone, as it will only bend and not break)?
Maybe we want to roll it up into a cylinder with the ease of rolling a piece of paper? Or even to fold it like the Galaxy Fold?
These are very different scenarios, with each putting a greater performance requirement on the device and the materials within.
Are the materials brittle? Or are they inherently flexible? And when they are bent, rolled, flexed or folded, do they continue to work the way they did when flat?
These are the questions many scientists and engineers are asking. Enter the world of materials science, mixed with a dose of advanced manufacturing.
Consumer electronics traditionally use materials designed for use on rigid glass substrates, or surfaces. The beauty of glass is its rigidity and thermal stability, and can be made on commercial scales.
That means it will rarely bend or flex, and can be heated to high temperatures. These are important factors when manufacturing an electronic device – especially those with a flat panel display. More