Flexible electronic devices have started penetrating in different applications in the sectors such as consumer electronics, medical and healthcare, and power and energy, automotive and defense. The market is growing at a highly increasing demand due to its flexible handling capability and reduced assembly costs.
Traditional electronic circuits are built on thick inflexible substrates whereas flexible electronics is a field in which the integrated circuits are built on substrate like plastic or metallic foil, which can be folded, wrapped, twisted, or rolled without affecting its electronic function. Basic electronic structure is composed of a substrate, backplane electronics, a front plane, and encapsulation. To make the structure flexible, all the components must bend up to some degree without losing their function. Two basic approaches have been adopted to make flexible electronics, that is; transfer and bonding of completed circuits to a ﬂexible substrate and fabrication of the circuits directly on the flexible substrate. Many factors contribute to the rise of ﬂexible electronics- more ruggedness, lightweight, portable, and less cost, with respect to production as compared to rigid substrate electronics. Development has spanned the past few years; from flexible solar cell arrays to ﬂexible OLED electronics on plastic substrates. The rapid development of this field has been spurred by consistent technological development in large-area electronics, thereby developing the areas like flat-panel electronics, medical image sensors, and electronic paper. As per MarketsandMarkets Research, the global flexible electronics market is expected to reach US$13.23 bln by 2020, at an estimated CAGR of 21.73%. The emerging consumer electronics market is expected to grow at a CAGR of 44.30%. The key revenue pocket for the industry will be the consumer electronics market. This is mainly because of the use of technologies in smart phones, televisions, wearable devices, and other consumer electronics products. North America is the biggest flexible electronics market, followed by Europe and APAC.
Currently, thin film photovoltaic (CIGS) account for largest share mainly because of the fact that CIGS panels are widely used for secondary power generation across the globe. In coming years, along with the consumer electronics automotive and healthcare sectors are expected to grow faster.
The major players in this segment are Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. (South Korea), LG Corporation (South Korea), SONY Corporation (Japan), and Apple Inc. (USA). In addition to this, companies like PARC (USA) solely focus on R&D activities in the field of printed and flexible electronics, whereas First Solar (USA) specially focuses on manufacturing of photovoltaic (PV) solar cells.
Significant growth is predicted for the market of flexible devices. "Wearables", namely intelligent, wearable systems with several useful and funny features is currently a widely discussed topic. To enjoy more comfort, exceptional designs and higher functionality manufacturers and users ask for flexible electronic devices, like displays, lighting elements or circuit boards. Research and development groups have already made considerable progress in this field, but not all challenges could be solved so far. IDTechEx has forecast that the worldwide market for flexible, printed, and organic electronics will increase from US$16.04 bln to US$76.79 bln in 2023. The overall market will continue to be dominated organic light-emitting diode displays this year and in 2015. Conductive ink and photovoltaics represent large segments of the total market. "On the other hand, stretchable electronics, logic and memory, thin-film sensors are much smaller segments but with huge growth potential as they emerge from R&D. Printed and flexible sensors are a US$6.3 bln market, with much of that total representing biosensors - disposable blood-glucose test strips that diabetics use to check their blood-sugar levels.
Printed, flexible and organic electronic (PFOE) sensors can offer flexible form factors, larger area, lower cost, lower power, and better disposability compared to conventional sensors, key attributes for wearable applications. These attributes will allow them to grow into a US$244 mln market in wearables, according to Lux Research, "With players from Apple to Intel to Kickstarter-funded start-ups launching devices, wearables are getting hot, but they still need to add functionality while trimming cost and size to really go mainstream", said Jonathan Melnick, Lux Research Senior Analyst and lead author of the report. "Printed, flexible, and organic electronic sensors can play a key enabling role for wearables though many technology developers still need to improve performance, reliability and lifetime", he added. Lux Researchers analyzed the market for PFOE sensors across a wide variety of connected applications on the Internet of Things (IoT), include wearables, retail, transportation, and buildings. Among their findings:
- Wearable, retail sensors drive growth
Wearable sensors, particularly for health and fitness, will be the biggest segment for PFOE sensors, but retail sensors with a US$117 mln market in 2024 willclock the fastest growth, a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 50% through the next decade.
- Transportation, buildings remain small
Automotive and buildings, which have accounted for a lot of IoT hype, will be a bustfor most PFOE sensors due to performance and reliability disadvantages and a limited addressable market.
- PFOE sensors face opportunities and challenges
Six types of IoT sensors may be suited for PFOE technologies: motion, pressure, gas,temperature, electromagnetic and optical. For each, the value proposition comes down to manufacturing, form factor or size in each target application.