Interesting new market statistics were revealed at the highly successful IDTechEx conference Printed Electronics Europe 8-9 April. In his opening presentation, Dr Peter Harrop told over 600 delegates that he sees the market for printed and potentially printed electronics rising from $1.6 billion in 2008 to $48 billion in 2018 as part of exponential growth to $300 billion or so in 2018. Mainly, this will be achieved by transforming traditional non electronic markets with flexible, disposable devices rather than meeting the present electronics business head on. In other words this is more about the $1 trillion healthcare market, the $430 billion packaging business, the $200 billion publishing market and even the $40 billion spent yearly on cosmetics than electronics as it is presently understood. For example, new packaging and smart skin patches using printed electronics are galvanising sales and improving safety and printed barcodes and books will partly be replaced with printed electronics. Another target is the $100 billion spent every year on lighting, as detailed in the presentation by Thorn Lighting, which develops OLED lighting while selling the traditional product.
The $1.3 trillion traditional, silicon chip based electronics industry can rest easy for awhile yet - but not forever. As Peter Harrop revealed, the printed electronics industry may have started by showing cost advantages with its membrane keyboards, printed RFID antennas, heaters and the like but more and more technical advantages are being discovered with some of the new printed and potentially printed technologies, from terahertz transistors to photovoltaics with over 40% efficiency used in space and ac electroluminescent displays conforming to a curved subway and over 100 meters long. Many other superior devices are coming along. For example, it is unlikely that traditional electronics will ever fully achieve such things as optical transparency, economical production of small volumes, fast design changes, every circuit different and fault tolerance.
Dr Jennifer Colegrove of analysts iSuppli gave a riveting talk on the flexible display market and promoted her report which covers over 200 companies in the field. This huge number seemed strange - IDTechEx sees only 1500 organisations in all forms of printed and potentially printed electronics and half of those are academic. However, she revealed that iSuppli takes a very broad view, including displays that may be rigid but involve some bending in production and other displays that are merely bendable rather than rollable.
She noted that the technical challenges are very broad because most materials must be modified to provide flexible displays. On her broad definition, "flexible" LCDs are already in production and the market will rise from $80 million 2007 to $2.8bn in 2013. However, rollable displays, ones suitable for apparel (eg ac electroluminescence from Shenzhen Guanxing) will still be only a small part of this even in 2013. This is despite big programs for rollable displays powered by the $27 million raised by Polymer Vision, with production in the UK, the $100 million Plastic Logic factory in Dresden and major initiatives at Prime View International in Taiwan and elsewhere. Indeed, a presentation by Plastic Logic revealed that their production process will owe a lot to LCD technology and will have a performance advantage in rollability and ruggedness of the final product but no price advantage, at least initially, the inks being a particular challenge with this construction of truly flexible electrophoretics on backplane organic transistors. Nevertheless, Europe is ahead of the USA in so much commercialisation of printed electronics -from ac electroluminescent and electrophoretic displays to the new photovoltaics and transistors - though not batteries - that Peter Harrop saw it having a larger market share than North America for the next few years until the huge US effort kicks in and it overtakes Europe but it depends to some extent on definitions. However, East Asia certainly remains the biggest user throughout.