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Helping the Thin-Film Transistors Industry Mature through Leveraging ‘Foundries’



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The thin-film transistors (TFT) industry has a problem. It lacks the infrastructure and business model found in other semiconductor markets. As such, it suffers in many aspects, but all of that is about to change thanks to a team of innovative researchers from KU Leuven. They devised a new type of TFT chip that can be created in large factories called foundries. Here’s why this is a big deal.

What are Thin-Film Transistors?

Thin film transistors are a form of semiconductor technology. Semiconductors conduct electricity but not as well as conductors. Specifically, their conductivity falls between insulator and conductor, making them ideal for use as switches in microelectronics. Currently, you probably have some form of TFT technology in your possession. They are crucial components in microchips.

Source - Amazon 6502 microprocessor

Source – Amazon 6502 microprocessor

The most common use of TFT tech is in screens where they control each pixel. TFT displays are found on smartphones and other small screens. These sensors are common in active matrix LCD screens like those in a DSLR camera, LCD projector, or headset displays. There are two main types of material used to create TFT chips today:

Amorphous Silicon

Amorphous Silicon is the most popular material used today in the creation of TFT chips. It costs the least to produce in quantity and can be created to meet a vast array of use case scenarios. Notably, these chips provide lower efficiency than some of the other alternatives but can be deposited into a variety of substrates, including glass, metal, and plastic.

Polycrystalline Silicon

Polycrystalline Silicon is more efficient than Amorphous silicon. However, it's also more difficult and costly to manufacture.  It’s created by distilling specific compounds onto silicon using heat or chemical reactions. This process requires special machines and skilled workers.

Drawbacks of Original Thin Film Transistors

These styles of TFT do have some drawbacks. For one, they are not flexible. Additionally, they don’t have the infrastructure, manufacturing power, or support of other types of semiconductors that have large factories called foundries that produce these chips in mass.

Keeping up with Demand

These semiconductor fabrication foundries create custom and generic chips on wafers in most cases. A wafer is a slice of semiconductor used for creating circuits and solar cells. They make it possible to create smaller chipsets. Notably, TFT chips don’t have foundries in operation to support their market. As such, this lack of manufacturing has limited their innovation and adoption until now.

Crucial Business Model

The model of having large semiconductor foundries makes sense for a couple of reasons. For one, there is massive demand for these chips and it's only predicted to grow alongside the increase in electronics. The thin-field electronics sector could see a boost in innovation and capabilities when engineers can begin focusing on new functionality rather than chip layout and design.

A New Approach

The researchers behind the report, Hikmet Çeliker, Wim Dehaene, and Kris Myny found that the lack of foundries and standards are the biggest factors limiting thin film electronic expansion. They plan to solve this issue and help usher in a new age of flexible and smaller electronics.

Evolved TFT

The researchers have a multi-pronged approach that involves setting up foundries, driving innovation, and creating flexible TFT chip standards to be mass-produced. Notably, they accomplished this task and sought to leverage what they learned to enhance the thin-field electronics sector.

Super Thin Film Transistors

The researchers created two different versions of thin TFTs using alternate substrates. They created these units with a TFT-supported microprocessor and other components to create a flexible MOS 6502 chip. This legendary chip was what powered Nintendo, early Apple computers, and even the first Commodore. While it's nothing in terms of computing power by today's standard, the fact that it was miniaturized means a lot.

Source - Techxplore - TFT

Source – Techxplore Thin Film Transistors

Researchers' official measurements place the project at less than 30 micrometers. Insanely, that’s thinner than a human hair. The implications of making microchips this small could be game-changing. There are a massive amount of industries that could benefit immediately from the introduction of low-cost, easily manufactured, thin chips.

Two Substrates

There were two different substrates chosen for the Thin Film Transistors, Amorphous indium-gallium-zinc-oxide and polycrystalline silicon. The latter differed from its predecessor in that it didn’t require heat to be created. The main chips both feature a 48-pin card that allows you to interact with devices, set parameters, and enable verification.

Projects Improve the Industry Model

Projects are the names given by researchers to these microprocessors. These small chips have been broken down to enable creatives to leverage the ones they need in a modular format. This structure provides flexibility and allows manufacturers to make custom chips upon request using the same substrate. This approach will also reduce waste and improve efficiency.

Power Consumption

Another major benefit of hair-thin TFT semiconductors is that they don’t need a lot of energy to function. These devices are optimized to be as power-conscious as possible. In the future, these devices could self-power using static energy or other methods of wireless charging.

Real World Applications for Thin Film Transistors

There are many real-world applications for TFTs. They currently are found in a huge selection of smart devices, laptops, and displays. These chips are what control pixels, but they are capable of much more. Here are some potential use cases for TFTs that could make them the technology of the future.

Health Care

The healthcare sector has a lot to gain from the introduction of TFT devices. There has been a steady increase in the use of wearables for casual, performance, and medical purposes. These devices could be made much smaller using this technology.

Think of a sticker that could transmit vital heart data to medical professionals for monitoring and studying purposes. The concept of ultra-thin wearables could make bandages that monitor for infection and many other innovative ideas that were once only found in sci-fi movies.


Robotics should use this technology to improve many different aspects of the industry. These thinner and lighter chips could help with the miniaturization of key components of the robotics equation. Lighter robots can run longer because there's less strain on their batteries.

TFT technology could make robot interfaces more intuitive. When coupled with AI technology, this tech could one day show the facial expressions of our robot coworkers and much more. For now, the robotics sector has long had its eyes on more energy-efficient chipsets.

Future Displays

There are a lot of future displays that could use this technology. The rise in VR and AR headsets is a great example of a technology that would benefit greatly from the lightweight TFT chip design. The tiny displays used in these devices could become feather light which would improve the ergonomics and make extended use less strenuous on the user.

Bendable Screens

TFT is a prime technology being used to create bendable screens. The flexible nature of these thin chips makes them ideal for this use. Flexible screens would have a revolutionary effect on the market. Roll-out screens would save space and allow anyone to quickly access information in seconds.

Internet of Things (IoT)

The IoT market is comprised of billions of smart devices. These units all have a sensor and can communicate data via the Internet. Some smart devices can both receive and send info. Notably, there are billions of IoT devices in operation today. They leverage micro-computing technology and sensors to communicate and gather data.

The IoT sector could see enhanced miniaturization thanks to this latest development. Imagine tiny sensors monitoring the logistics and supply chain. There are already a lot of decentralized options in the market as well. This added flexibility means that the IoT market should be a first move for TFT engineers.

IoT devices continue to play a critical role in the industrial sector. Here, they are used to monitor manufacturing processes, authenticate products, and share logistics data with the network. There are IoT devices that monitor the temperature, location, and validity of an asset in real-time. As such, IoT tech is seen as the best alternative for these options.

Companies that Could Benefit from this Tech

Several firms could leverage this technology immediately and start seeing improved efficiency and revenue. The TFT manufacturing sector continues to expand and competition is getting more intense. Here are a few firms you should know in the market.

1. Applied Materials finviz dynamic chart for  AMAT

American-based tech manufacturer Applied Materials is a leading chip and software provider for the semiconductor industry. The firm was founded in 1967 and went public in 1972. Since that time, the company has seen massive success and is recognized as a market leader. Notably. FORTUNE magazine named Applied Materials one of the World's Most Admired Companies in 2018.

In 2009, Applied Materials officially made its entrance into the chip manufacturing market. Currently, it is one of the top semiconductor chip manufacturers in the world and Its massive foundries continue to pump out billions of chips to support the digital revolution. Today, Applied Materials has three distinct areas of focus, semiconductors, applied global services, and display markets.

The AMAT stock is seen as a smart move for investors. The stock has a current market cap of $170.55B, and the company has a valuation of $168.62B. In terms of stock performance, AMAT has been on the up for the last year. Specifically, the stock outperformed the market and is up +81.73% over the last 52 weeks.

2. Intel Corporation finviz dynamic chart for  INTC

The Intel Corporation is another well-known chip manufacturer that continues to drive innovation and manufacturing processes to new heights. The firm entered the market in 1968 and is headquartered in California. Notably, Intel chips are hugely popular, and the company’s manufacturing processes have been refined over the years.

Today, Intel is one of the main foundries for chip creation. The company offers full-stack solutions that can be designed and pre-ordered by manufacturers when needed. These factors make INTC a smart stock to hold. Analysts predict a slow and steady increase in value, with some expecting the stock to rise from $35 this year to $60 by 2026.

​​Chip Shortages

One Of The main factors that have driven further research into the TFT chip movement is the recent shortages in the market. The semiconductor chip market continues to have shortages due to a variety of reasons. For one, political tensions have led countries to compartmentalize their chip-building resources to prepare for future confrontations.

The chip shortage has affected various regions differently. The EU has felt the brunt of the shortage the most as it lacks major manufacturing foundries, unlike the US and China. This chip crunch has left many industries scrambling to get replacements and secure alternatives in case the problem persists.

The launch of more foundries and better use of resources could help to alleviate this problem. However, it should be noted that the demand for miniaturized hi-tech devices is steadily increasing which means that the market demand will follow suit. As such, it would be wise to position accordingly.

The Future of Thin Film Transistors

The future of TFT chips will be automated. AI technology will work hand and hand with developers to create new and exciting alternatives to the status quo. The next generation of TFT chips will be smaller, more affordable, and easier to manufacture. All of these factors will ensure they remain a crucial component in the world tech sectors.

Thin Film Transistors Destined for Growth

It would be difficult to find analysts who believe TFT chip use will decline in the coming years. The increase in miniaturized electronics continues to feed this moment and help drive innovation across the market. This latest approach provides a more inclusive and realistic perspective on the challenges of TFT chip adoption. As such, the data here should help guide the industry toward a model more conducive to expansion.

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David Hamilton is a full-time journalist and a long-time bitcoinist. He specializes in writing articles on the blockchain. His articles have been published in multiple bitcoin publications including