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Printed electronics sector takes a hard look at the flexible future

Printed electronics sector takes a hard look at the flexible future

15-Apr-13

Printed electronics represent a growing technology for fabricating electronic devices on materials such as paper, plastic, and textiles using electrically functional inks in combination with standard printing processes such as screen printing, offset Lithography, and ink-jet printing. Printed electronics are steadily proving that they have the potential to bring about a revolution in electronic applications. Printed electronics are rapidly gaining popularity across applications for their benefits of low cost, high throughput, ease of manufacturing, and use in new applications. Industries are strongly backing innovations in this domain due to the technology's ability to enable different low-end commercial applications by complementing, instead of replacing, silicon microelectronics. The market earned revenue of over US$321.8 mln in 2010 and estimates this to reach US$943.7 mln in 2017, as per a report by Frost and Sullivan. Printed electronics companies can tap into fresh application sectors by making the manufacturing process efficient and affordable. Printing technologies are receiving increased attention from numerous application sectors since they can be patterned on any substrate by using various functional materials. The substrates include flexible media such as paper, textiles, and plastics. "Investors are increasingly drawn to the printed electronics market due to its low cost of entry and technological knowhow of conventional printing. The conventional printing methods are already mastered and thus reduces chances of any anomaly with the process" said Frost & Sullivan Research Analyst Nupur Sinha. "The market is also attracting greater investments and support from both organizations and governments, as it aids the production of green electronics by utilizing bio-degradable and recyclable materials." Investors in the printed electronics market will seek high production volumes from the technology, but some techniques such as screen and inkjet printing are relatively slow, which makes them unsuitable for high-volume manufacturing. Soft lithographic techniques used for devices like transistors, radio frequency identification (RFID) tags, and wearable electronics also have limited production volumes. Currently, there not a one-size-fits-all solution in the market but there are several niche technologies. As such, printed electronics developers are working on enhancing their product design and integration in order to attract investors from high-volume markets. Furthermore, developers need to lock down a manufacturing technique. Though roll-to-roll printing is effective, other processes involved in the manufacture of the end product needs improvements. Additionally, new techniques still do not have an established method for replicating lab processes while experimenting on press. "Printed electronic manufacturers can overcome these issues by coating or encapsulating organic materials in a protective barrier to make them less vulnerable to environment hazards," noted Sinha. "Various combinations of polymer materials could also be tested for optimum efficiency and stability, based on their respective end-user application."

As per Transparency Market Research, the Global Printed Electronics market is expected to revolutionize the industry by introducing innovative and low cost products that can be manufactured with traditional silicon-based electronics techniques. The drivers for global printed electronics market are low manufacturing cost and its applicability in variety of substrates. The global printed electronics market is expected to grow at an estimated CAGR of 38% from 2012 to 2018. In printed electronics industry, screen printing captures maximum share owing to its wise deployment, whereas most applications are available in printed photovoltaic (PV) due to the rising demand for alternative energy sources globally.

According to a technical market research report by Electronics.ca Publications, the global market for printed electronics was valued at nearly US$3.5 bln in 2011 and is expected to increase to US$12.6 bln in 2016, a five-year compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 29.4%. The market for printed electronics can be broken down into five segments: optoelectronics, energy, sensors, radio frequency, and other. The optoelectronics segment accounted for nearly US$2.3 bln in 2011 and is expected to increase at a CAGR of 31.6% to reach US$8.9 bln in 2016. The energy segment accounted for US$525 mln in 2011 and is expected to increase at a CAGR of 22.8% to reach nearly US$1.5 bln in 2016. The segment made up of sensors, worth US$145 mln in 2011, is projected to experience a CAGR of 40.4% to reach a value of nearly US$794 mln in 2016. The radio frequency segment was valued at US$35.3 mln in 2011 and should reach nearly US$152 mln in 2016, a CAGR of 33.9%. The other segment was worth US$518 mln in 2011 and, by 2016, should be worth nearly US$1.3 bln, a CAGR of 20%.

Today, the potentially revolutionary character of printed electronics lies not only in its low cost, ease of manufacturing, and small size and light weight. It also lies in the ability of printed electronics to facilitate applications that are not feasible or are uneconomical with conventional silicon-based electronics. Flexible displays, smart labels, and animated signage are examples of such applications. Therefore, printed electronics has not only enhanced existing markets but is also creating new market opportunities.

 
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