Conductive inks and paste: everything is changing
The conductive inks and paste business will generate a demand of 1800 tonnes, which will grow to 2200 tonnes by the year 2026, according to forecasts from IDTechEx Research. This business has come alive again and is now a business where literally everything is changing. The traditional markets are experiencing upheaval in terms of requirements and product leadership, whilst various emerging markets are opening up new frontiers, the IDTechEx report says.
The report provides a comprehensive and authoritative view of the conductive inks and paste market, giving detailed 10-year market forecasts segmented by application and material/ink type. The market forecasts are given in tonnage and value at the ink level.
We provide a detailed analysis of at least 17 existing and emerging application sectors including silicon solar cells, UF/UHF RFID tags, touch screen edge electrodes, automotive, in-mould electronics, e-textiles, 3D antennas, 3D printed electronics, desktop pcb printers, ITO replacement, OLED lighting and others.
This report is based upon years of research. Our analysts have many years of hands-on prior experience and were at the forefront of the conductive inks/paste business, playing an important role in creating a multi-billion dollar industry. In the past five years alone, our team has interviewed and profiled more than 50 users and producers of various types of conductive inks and pastes. Each year we have learned more about the market and fine-tuned our analysis, insight and forecasts.
Everything in this sector is changing. At paste level, the initial group of suppliers that came to dominate the market are losing their leading position to those who were once low-cost and low-quality. This trend will continue in the short term, whilst in the long term we anticipate that this will become a Chinese business entirely. At the powder level, recent factory interruptions have convinced the end users to force through a more diversified supplier base despite the dominant supplier having a distinct quality advantage.
This is a changing and declining market. The adoption of narrow bezel designs in premium phones has pushed the performance requirements beyond the limits of standard PTF and screen printing thereby opening the market to photo-curable pastes. This trend will continue and will in the long term favour competing approaches to printing. Standard PTFs will continue losing share but will remain substantial thanks to their cost advantage and the rise of low-cost devices. Intense cost competition will continue in this end of the market, eroding the margins even further.
Aerosol deposition for 3D antenna is gaining traction. This technique enables antennas to be directly deposited on 3D surfaces, thus helping save space. In addition, it accommodates a change in design by a change in software. It now competes with LDS even on cost. We anticipate that aerosol will establish itself as a major process for creating antennas in consumer electronic devices, thus creating a market opportunity for silver nanoparticle inks.
In-mould electronics (IME)
IME will make a comeback after the Ford setback. This process combines electronic and graphical printing on a 2D sheet which is then formed or moulded into a 3D shape. IME offers an elegant and attractive way to structurally integrate simple electronics into 3D-shaped objects, particularly for high-volume production. It will find use both in the automotive and consumer electronic segments. There is still room for product improvement and optimization. The value chain is also not well-established yet.
Electronic textiles (e-textiles) are on the cusp of growth. IDTechEx Research forecasts that it will grow from nearly $100 million in 2015 to nearly $3.2 billion in 2026 at the final product level. The interconnects and sensors are critical elements of all emerging e-textile products. Printing here can deliver value as it is a post-production process familiar to the textile industry. This is why the number of e-textile products and prototypes with printed conductive lines is rapidly increasing. There is room for innovation as current inks fail to meet all the required performance targets. This is because technical requirement in terms of adhesion, washability and stretchability are stringent.
3D printed electronics
3D printed electronics can become a platform technology for creating arbitrarily-shaped and customized smart and electronic objects. This can transform standard plastic-based 3D printing. The interest is rising as evidenced by the recent increase in the numbers of approaches, machines, ink supplier and prototypes. There are, however, some technical challenges: the printed embedded lines must provide high conductivity even at low (<80C) annealing temperature
Desktop pcb printing
Printed electronics wants to bring back ‘printing’ to the printed circuit board (pcb) industry. The recent trend has seen a rise in desktop pcb printers, aimed both at the hobbyist and professional ends of the market. The hobbyist machines are simple systems capable of creating crude wide-track single or double-sided pcbs. They compete with, and will ultimately lose to, simple CNC milling machines. In contrast, professional desktop printers target complex multi-layer pcbs boards. They seek to cut down the prototyping time and to enable designers to keep circuit IP in house, whilst also becoming cost competitive with standards process at low volumes. This will be growing opportunity for silver nanoparticle inks since inkjet-printed conductive lines must be highly conducting and narrow.
RFIDs will become a business greater than $7 billion in 2026 at the tag level. Printing is once again becoming a real contender for manufacturing RFID antennas. Silver prices have fallen, bringing down the BoM whilst the industry is projected to near full capacity utilization soon, opening way for investment in new industrial process. UHF and HF RFID firms have already started adopting RFID antenna printing en masse, and IDTechEx forecasts that this trend will continue.