Much of the promise of printed electronics is in the potential to manufacture devices through low-cost, high-throughput manufacturing. However, in order to realize this potential, suitable materials sets must impart the technical specifications of the device while being compatible with solution processing – and without becoming too costly themselves. All told, the market for printed electronics materials will rise to $2.6 billion in 2017. While start-up companies and venture capitalists alike insist that innovative new ITO replacement and OLED materials can change the game, opaque conductive silver inks continue to lead the way as existing applications grow and new applications emerge.
Many applications such as membrane switches, medical, solar, radio frequency identification (RFID), touchscreens, printed circuit boards (PCBs), displays, and automotive either currently use or look to begin using printed conductors. The overall opaque conductor market is set to grow to $2.4 billion in 2017 from $1.4 billion in 2012, a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 11%. Medical and RFID applications will be amongst the fastest growing, as packaging and apparel RFID expands and medical applications such as disposable defibrillator and electrocardiography (EKG) electrodes rise.
While the recent price volatility of silver has renewed interest in replacing silver in favor of cheaper and more predictable alternatives such as silver nanoparticles, copper reduction, and silver-coated copper inks and pastes, the majority will disappoint in the near to medium term. In fact, silver nanoparticles will be the only one of these technologies to capture a meaningful share away from silver paste before 2017, since it can enable thinner silicon wafers in solar cells through non-contact printing.
While the future may open up new streams of revenue for the new solutions in labs today, savvy innovation executives should set appropriate expectations rather than inappropriate hockey sticks.
Source: Lux Research report “Inking Money: The Prospects for Materials in Printed Electronics” — client registration required.