When it comes to today’s printed-electronics (PE) arena, high-tech enabling materials and manufacturing advances are uniting to create new form factors (flexible, stretchable) to increase the ubiquity of electronics (sensors, wearables and the Internet of Things). That’s the 30,000-ft overview presented at the recent IDTechEx Show! USA 2019. The event drew about 3,500 attendees from 58 countries to see 268 exhibitors (including AIMCAL and Converting Quarterly) and learn from 285 technical presentations.
One highlight of the tradeshow is the hands-on Demonstration Street showing real-world applications of breakthrough printed-electronics technologies. Two of the score of examples that caught my eye:
SunCurtain (Kitzingen, Germany) organic photovoltaic (OPV) vertical shading system (see above): The idea is to turn curtains into miniature power plants. Classic louvered slats are made of flexible, semi-transparent OPV materials via OPVIUS GmbH, that let in enough light into the room so that no artificial light is needed. The setup is reportedly as effective as a 150W/m2 solar panel but needs only a 5-min installation. It also blocks up to 40% of infrared heat from the outside.
Asada Mesh Co., Ltd. (Riverview, FL), capacitive-touch photoluminescent keyboard (see below): The flexible keyboard is made via screen printing of sub-25-micron features on plastic materials equipped with capacitive sensors and backlit by photoluminescent inks via Sun Chemical. It measures only about 2 mm thick.
Enabling materials & manufacturing
- OLED displays dominate the overall PE field with about $30.2 billion in market share this year. Sensors are the next big area with about a $3.9 billion share, and conductive inks take another $2.3 billion.
- High-volume orders are beginning for graphene with about $50 million in sales in 2019. That may grow 10-fold to $500 million in 2029, shared equally by electronic/electrical applications and composites/heat-management uses.
- Conductive inks of all types (pen, transparent layers, EMI shielding, sintered silver, silicon) may grow to a $3.22 billion market by 2029.
- Printed and/or flexible logic/memory circuits will reach a $1-billion market by 2030.
New form factors
- Foldable OLED displays will be a $2-billion market in 2022 with about 22 million units sold. This could multiply 10-fold as well to $20 billion and 331 million units sold in 2029. Such flexible electronics will help invigorate the slowing smartphone field (see last year’s Royole FlexPai and the just-released Motorola Razr flip-phone).
- Whole new product categories can be created such as e-textiles ($340 million), flexible batteries ($190 million), and flexible sensors ($3.4 billion) by 2029.
Increasing ubiquity of electronics
- Biosensors will enable a $43-billion, point-of-care diagnostics market by 2029, and sensor fusion with smart packaging will lead to cashier-free retail shopping with RFIDs and machine vision taking the place of human workers.
- Applications for RAIN RFIDs grew 18% from 2018 to now; with 20.1 billion RFIDs of all types in use this year. Contactless NFC cards are an especially strong market at 2.3 billion units.
- Overall, wearables are a $56.3 billion market in 2019, including everything from smartwatches and fitness trackers to AR/VR headgear and skin patches. But the strongest growth may be with healthcare applications: medical wearables will double to nearly $20 billion between now and 2024; and continuous-monitoring skin patches (blood glucose) alone will hit $20 billion by 2029.