Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Printed electronics set to disrupt electronics industry

NEVADA CITY, USA: The market for printed electronics is just beginning to emerge. As in the semiconductor market that preceded it, specific applications are legitimizing its acceptance and driving its demand. In some cases, the market applications are near term and dynamic, while others are more long range and evolving.

The most ubiquitous and immediate applications concern RFID and OLED displays, which are manufactured using OTFT (organic thin film transistor) technology. These technologies are penetrating a wide number of customer applications, and as costs decline and performance improves, will justify customer switching and, in many cases, implementation of entirely new design solutions.

It can safely be said that the printed electronics industry is disruptive in the sense that it is creating new and original markets not seen since the advent of MP3 players, PDAs, or handheld video games. Moreover, it replaces many established products and may provide better functionality and performance at a lower cost.

In some cases, as with RFID, printed electronics will drive new demand and consumption by providing more comprehensive accountability, data accuracy, and logistical knowledge than exist today—a kind of new super bar-code technology solution. In other situations, such as with new emissive and nonemissive displays powered by organic logic, memory, and sensor input, printed electronics will provide a more original solution than exists with legacy technology.

As each individual market begins to mature, it will evolve into much more predictable and measurable segments with regard to behavior and rate of growth. Embryonic markets are initially difficult to size or accurately forecast because of the absence of end user and supplier information. Consequently, ETP expects that future reports will restate some of the market sizes, shares, and pricing as better information is obtained.

Far and away the biggest opportunity for printed electronics is in the radio frequency identification (RFID) market, which grew by more than 50 percent in revenues from 2005 to 2006. The number of field trials within industries such as financial services, airlines, hospitals, and postal/government increased substantially in 2006 and is projected to expand by as much as 50 percent in 2007.

Printed electronics is helping drive manufacturing costs down. OTFT technology is being applied to produce low-cost RFID tags consisting of as many as 4,000 transistors, although the majority of tags continue to be manufactured using traditional silicon technology.

The market for OTFT displays is expected to experience dynamic growth similar to that of RFID because of the inherent advantages that printed electronics offers in display technology. OTFT will face very little competition when it comes to manufacturing flexible display devices. OTFT technology will also emerge as a significant replacement to TFT-LCD technology in certain price-sensitive applications.

By the end of the ten-year forecast period, printed organic display electronics is expected to dominate the OLED display technology field in terms of cost and performance.

The market for smart or intelligent labels and packaging is one of the largest potential markets for printed electronics in the industry, if the remarkable potential can only be realized. The total available market size vastly exceeds any other potential market, including OLEDs, RFID, semiconductors, and photovoltaics, except that the penetration is expected to be significantly less, given the cost obstacles to be overcome.

As a result, the percent of penetration of the total available market will remain relatively low, although the total printed electronics market for smart labels and intelligent packaging is expected to be the second largest printed electronics market in 2016 given the scale of the overall packaging market.

One of the pivotal elements to the success of the printed electronics industry will be advances in low-cost logic, memory, and related optoelectronic sensing devices utilizing OTFT circuitry. If the silicon semiconductor industry is a valid analogy, then innovation should proceed rapidly, possibly exceeding ETP’s estimates, which are based only on contemporary information.

It is of interest that AMD purportedly controls about 80 percent of the patents for printable, thin film electronics, and the Japanese have moved into overdrive in registering new patents relevant to printed transistors in the last year.

Over the next 10 years, demand for photovoltaic (PV) technology will grow rapidly as the cost for conventional energy increases and becomes less affordable to end users. Moreover, as the cost for PV modules drops, largely due to innovations from printed electronics, consumption of new kinds of PV modules, batteries, rechargeable batteries, solar cells, fuel cells, supercapacitors, and related power generating devices will take off.

More importantly, the efficiency of solar conversion devices (which in 2006 had reached approximately 20 percent) will increase and likely double or more, making printed PV an extremely attractive power source solution. Printed electronics will mainly serve to lower the production costs of PV devices, thus driving significant growth and stimulating demand for cost-sensitive applications such as residential power generation, recreation, security, and transportation.

The market for OTFT/printed electronics is realistically expected to explode over the next ten years. Though hardly measurable at the time of the writing of this report, the emerging market is expected to rise to almost $45 billion by 2016. The markets in order of size in 2016 will be RFID, followed by smart labels and intelligent packaging, IC logic/memory and sensors, OLED technology, and finally PV market applications (mostly battery power storage).

The printed electronics market has an extraordinary upside when compared with traditional market growth opportunities. For the first few years, overall penetration will only be in the single digits, and market evolution will hardly be noticed. This will change quickly as the market potential becomes apparent. Though the printed electronics industry hardly seems viable today, it could well become one of the most exciting and astonishing markets to unfold in the last 40 years.

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