IDTechEx has just completed an intense study of Printed Electronics in Japan involving 35 visits to companies and institutions there and interviews and lectures at the IDTechEx Printed Electronics Asia event there. The full wealth of the intelligence and analysis is available in the IDTechEx Market Intelligence Portal which is obtainable by subscription and is the IDTechEx premium product. Here are some of the conclusions from this unique study.
Almost all in Japan agreed with us that flexible printed electronics will be a big market. No one disagreed but some said they simply did not know. Many supported our view that the window of opportunity for OLED lighting has narrowed because LEDs have improved so much and are available in so many forms nowadays.
We have not found significant success with printed transistors, photovoltaics or other printed components or circuits though printed conductive patterns are popular in Japan, as in the rest of the world. There is no one in Japan actually selling printed transistor circuits as far as we can ascertain, unlike the situation in the UK where PragmatIC actually ships them against orders. There is little interest in printed electronics on paper in Japan and this is misguided. Globally and in Japan it is still unclear whether the largest market share will be taken with organic or with inorganic transistor semiconductors but the focus is exclusively on high volume potential applications because the inevitably huge companies involved want nothing less.
The Japanese do not share the enthusiasm for graphene seen in the West but they have very widespread activity in moving beyond ITO transparent conductive film to versions that can be tightly rolled into portable consumer electronic products. Reflecting the relative market potential, there is a lesser but substantial interest in developing stretchable electronics as needed for solar film on vehicles and for healthcare. Origami is a Japanese word!
Following many more interviews, including the ones in this second report, we add the following further conclusions.
One trend is the move into more electronics being printed. The companies visited were not particularly interested in 3D printing. They are very interested in getting in, or further into, flexible electronics, printed or partly printed, because they are mostly sure it will be used for mobile phones and allied devices. They hope it will be used in consumer packaged goods, posters and other promotional items and in healthcare but, as yet, there is little user pull in these latter potential applications. We believe that the trials of solar-powered light-emitting ac electroluminescent and electrophoretic posters in recent years failed on price at about $30 but they should have been reprogrammable.
Flexible OLEDs are now a particular focus. These large companies are doing more to cross fertilise between divisions. It is common for huge corporations to start to move into printed electronics in general. However, they rightly perceive that the biggest profits will be in materials not the final devices when it comes to displays for instance, mimicking today's situation with LCD screens, lithium-ion batteries and supercapacitors.
That is not to deny that another Apple will rise and do well from mobile phones and other consumer electronics with "must have" user propositions. Indeed, the Japanese are fighting hard to win in these consumer products, having slipped behind the Koreans and Americans. There was some talk of the Chinese threat too. Busy times are envisaged ahead but a more positive attitude exists in Japan now the Japanese economy is finally picking up.
Top image: Oregon State University
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