IDTechEx has been involved in the printed electronics industry from the days when conductive inks were called polymer thick films (no mention of them being conductive!) and RFID integrated circuits cost ten times more than they do today, with their cost seen as the problem that could be addressed by printed organic semiconductors. Since then, some 20 years, we've had the great privilege to watch, assess and work alongside the printed electronics industry as a magnitude of materials, components and fresh capabilities have emerged.
Wide ranging commercial success
Certain materials or components have moved rapidly, such as printed conductive paste used as bus bars on PV solar cells from the early 2000s, creating a material market for that application to be over $1 Billion a year. Others identified where printing could reduce cost and enable high throughputs, such as printed glucose test strips or printing materials for OLED barrier layers. Then there have been those that have created new markets with the technology, ones that are difficult to predict or forecast since they replace nothing but fulfil a new need. One example being the use of flexible electrophoretic displays in e-readers such as the Amazon Kindle, which was deemed to have taken off after Jeff Bezos showed the device to Oprah Winfrey on her show, oh what marketing!
Yet while there are many successful volume applications of printed electronics materials and components, one challenge that IDTechEx has seen persist are for those that develop something completely new which has the potential to create new product and new markets. In other words, create a product that users would want, but they don't yet know they want it because it does not exist yet. The challenge is creating that product.
Inventing new products and markets
Printed electronics has many successful market creation stories. Who would have thought that cosmetic and electronic skin patches would be the highest volume application for printed flexible batteries; or the printed disposable battery test indicator, printed in billions at its peak, would be a huge hit and help sell more batteries? Or that OLED lighting, still largely a very niche and small market today, could disrupt a huge $4 billion medical eye care treatment business, swapping injections in the eye with simply wearing an OLED eye mask? Those are some of the successful examples of companies that have identified compelling applications suited to the strengths of the technology.
Sometimes inventing the enabling technology is only half the work. You then need to invent the product it enables, and then perhaps invent the market too. Relying on others to do the latter parts for you may not succeed. The frustrating part is that there is no obvious shortcut to achieve this, but there are strategies that can help. For example, exploring vertical markets early on to gain feedback; create working products and samples, not just powerpoints; sell stuff (and make it easy to buy) so that it can be bought and tested in many different use cases; involve creative people as much as possible - the experts who invent and develop the technology may not be always the appropriate product designers; and market to and educate target sectors.
Speeding up the process
At IDTechEx , we hope to assist with this market creation process and one way we do that is through creating a unique event environment which targets end-users across multiple verticals, bringing them together with the supplier base. The next event where we will do this is Printed Electronics USA , held in Santa Clara on Nov 20-21 (www.PrintedElectronicsUSA.com ). Our speaker program features organizations ranging from GM, Geely, Faurecia and others in automotive to brands such as ABInBev to industrial giants such as UTRC, Airbus, LG and Microsoft and many more discussing changes in their industry and what they seek. Our event marketing targets OEMs and brands who come to engage with the industry and see what is possible. The 250 company strong exhibition features zones such as Demonstration Street - where products can be seen and handled - to the Launchpad Zone, with early-stage companies showing new products, often for the first time. The networking between the industry and users, and the unexpected conversations that are typically only made in environments such as this, can spawn new ideas and business. Maybe you will have that Oprah moment.
Image Source: FlexEnable at the IDTechEx Show!