Printed, organic, and flexible electronics: high growth but mixed fortunes

By Raghu Das, CEO, IDTechEx



The range of enabling technologies involved are at very different points of maturity and profitability

IDTechEx, a global market research, technology scouting and events firm, finds that in 2014 three technologies - OLED displays, sensors and conductive ink - make up 99% of the $23.97 billion market for printed, organic and flexible electronics. A snapshot of the market size in 2014, based on research conducted for the new IDTechEx report "Printed, Organic and Flexible Electronics 2014-2024" highlights that the range of enabling technologies involved are at very different points of maturity and profitability.

Three biggest sectors: OLEDs, sensors, conductive ink
The largest segment so far is OLED displays, commercial now in cellphones, tablets and TVs, made using vacuum (non-printed) processes. The business has been growing strongly over the last few years due to the onslaught of competition in the LCD industry and therefore the need to differentiate. However, OLED TVs have failed to become a commercial success so far due to their high price but there is strong forward momentum. Curved and eventually flexible OLEDs are key areas of development focus.

Sensors comprise almost exclusively of glucose test strips, where the electrodes are printed. The glucose test strip market will experience growth in numbers but revenue growth is less certain as US Medicare intends to pressure suppliers to reduce cost. Still, the margins until now have been excellent. Meanwhile many are developing other sensing solutions, from hybrid organic and CMOS inorganic image sensors to temperature sensors.

The mainstay application of conductive ink has been PV bus bars and fingers, and despite the consolidated PV supplier base the volume growth in terms of PV wafers produced offsets the progress in reducing the ink consumption through better structures and process efficiencies. Secondly, as the touch panel market grows in consumer electronics it is driving demand for more conductive ink for the edge bezel electrodes.

Hot sectors
IDTechEx note that in particular, hot sectors are transparent conductive films targeted to larger area touch panels, with metal mesh and nanowire solutions in the lead so far. 2014 has seen sluggish adoption of ITO alternatives as laptop touch screen demand uptake has been slower than anticipated, but capacity is now beginning to fill up.

However, most importantly, the industry is now becoming much better placed to serve customers - strong ecosystems have been developed by some suppliers to move the focus to complete solution based offerings rather than a technology component offering. Government investments around the world are also rightly focussing on reducing capex risks for companies wishing to get products off the ground, and are indeed helping companies make products.

Additionally, the progress of wearable technology is of increasing interest and focus of developers. It requires the new form factors that printed, organic and flexible electronics can offer for products that can be priced to have reasonable margin.

Latest Printed Electronics Assessment
IDTechEx saves clients time and money and helps them to make the best decisions by providing impartial assessment of emerging technologies. We have served clients in 80 countries from our bases in the UK, US Germany and Japan. The latest report "Printed, Organic and Flexible Electronics 2014-2024" provides granular market forecasts by technology type over a ten year period, based on conducting hundreds of interviews. Critically, we interview end users to find out what they need. It covers the trends, market place and technology developments and roadmaps versus end user needs.

Meeting Customers
IDTechEx hosts Printed Electronics USA in Santa Clara from November 19th to 20th. With 200 exhibitors and 2,500 attendees expected, this event showcases the applications and emerging technologies. Critically, it focusses on bringing the technology to market by focussing the event around applications. Companies such as Jaguar Land Rover, Samsung, Hallmark, adidas, Lockheed Martin, Osram and many others will discuss their needs and experiences with the technology.

Printed, Organic and Flexible Electronics 2014-2024

Printed Electronics USA