Flexible-Printed Electronics Applications Grow

DUBLIN /BUSINESS WIRE/ -- Research and Markets has announced the addition of the "Flexible Applications Based on Printed Electronics Technologies 2013" report to its offering.

As providers overcome technical challenges, combined flexible and printed electronic applications could reach $1 billion in 2020, with multiple applications driving the growth. Today flexible and printed electronics create a lot of hope. And a supply chain is being created to support an industrial infrastructure. In our report, we have identified and tracked the five main functionalities of flexible and printed electronics: displaying, sensing, lighting, energy generating, and substrates.

The different degrees of freedom in flexibility that can be obtained can be divided into:

  • Conformable substrate. The flexible substrate will be shaped in a definitive way after processing.
  • Bendable substrate. They can be rolled and bent many times (even if we consider it will not be a key feature coming from customer needs.).
  • Unused flexibility. In the end, the flexibility is not an added value to the customer.

We believe some applications will be more likely than others to be successful. For example, bendable applications will undergo tough stress during use, and technological challenges will be hard to overcome. Our report shows the distinction between the functions (displaying, lighting, energy conversion, sensing, and substrates) and the seek flexibility degree of freedom. We do not make the distinction in our report between organic and inorganic substrates as semiconductors can also be used as flexible substrates. However, we believe over the next several years, the number of applications using printing processes for flexible electronics will grow.

We estimate the printed and flexible electronics market will grow from $176 million in 2013 to $950 million in 2020, with a 27% CAGR in market value. Printed OLED displays for large size (TVs) are likely to become the largest market. For OLED lighting, we believe it will grow but remain a niche market for automotive/office lighting. For PV, the market demand by 2020 will remain very low compared with the demand for rigid PV, largely below 1% of the global market demand by 2020.

Sensor, smart systems, and polytronic applications will include sensors, touchless/touch screens, and RFID applications.

New Applications
Printed and flexible electronics represeent a new exciting technology, with large potential market expectations. Indeed, as semiconductors move to the very small with 22 nm critical dimension, printed electronics moves to the other end of the spectrum with its own material, equipment, process challenges, and supply chain. Printed electronics will not kill semiconductor electronics as it will not be a replacement for CMOS silicon. However, it will create new industry segments and new classes of applications, with unique features, benefits, and costs that cannot be addressed with conventional semiconductor electronics.

Key Processing Choices Still to Be Made
We have identified strong technical challenges for the printed and flexible electronics industry to overcome if it is to be successful. Today, it is still more technopush rather than market pull. Printed and flexible electronics are still looking for high throughput, high resolution deposition techniques to become suitable for other markets than just a few niche high-end applications. For example, a big bottleneck is an efficient barrier technology. Indeed, to be successful, the main technical challenge in the short term lies in finding a good barrier technology: encapsulation materials are not so good on flexible substrates.

For printed and flexible electronics, every application has its own challenges. For example, flexibility challenges for small screen OLEDs are:

  • Expensive encapsulation, with slow manufacturing processes today
  • Low number of material suppliers
  • No high throughput equipment
  • Still high cost

To achieve printability, there are additional challenges: the need for efficient materials (e.g., long lifetime, good printability, and good conductivity), efficient processes, and cost-effective manufacturing equipment.

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