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Conductive Inks and Paste: Everything is Changing
Dr. Khasha Ghaffarzadeh
APR 08, 2016 12:35 PM
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Conductive Inks and Paste: Everything is Changing

by Dr. Khasha Ghaffarzadeh


Everything, literally everything, is changing in the conductive inks business. The traditional markets are experiencing upheaval in terms of requirements and product leadership, while various emerging markets are opening up new frontiers. IDTechEx Research forecasts that the total demand will rise from 1800 tons in 2016 to 2200 in 2026.

Traditional Markets in a State of Flux

Photovoltaics remains the largest demand driver for firing-type screen printable conductive inks. At the paste levels, we are witnessing a change of leadership thanks to the rise of suppliers that were once low-cost and low-quality but are now low-cost and good enough. At the powder level, end users will force through a more diversified supply base to reduce their reliance on specific Asian manufacturers.

Touch screen edge electrode market has become a market fraught with uncertainty.  The adoption of narrow bezel designs in premium phones has opened the market to photo-curable pastes. This perennial trend will ultimately 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.

Ten-year market projections split by application. Full figures in the IDTechEx Research report 'Conductive Inks 2016-2026: Forecasts, Technologies, Players'. Note that ink selling prices have declined thanks to a decline in raw metal prices but also pressured margins, resulting in a decrease in  revenue forecasts. Source: IDTechEx Research.

Roundup of Emerging Market Segments

Aerosol-deposited 3D antennas are gaining traction. This technique accommodates a change in design by a change in software. It now competes with LDS even on cost. This will become a major process for creating antennas in consumer electronic devices, thus creating a market opportunity for silver nanoparticle inks.

In-mold electronics (IME) will make a comeback after the recent setbacks. 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.

Electronic textiles (e-textiles) are set to reach nearly $3.2 billion in 2026 at the final product level. Printing the interconnects 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 increasing. There is room for innovation as current inks fail to meet all the required adhesion, washability and stretchability targets.

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. Technical challenges such as the need for high conductivity at low (<80C) annealing temperatures remains.

Desktop PCB printers have been developed aimed both at the hobbyist and professional ends of the market. The professional desktop printers target complex multi-layer PCBs. They seek to cut down the prototyping time and to enable designers to keep circuit IP in house. This will be a growing opportunity for silver nanoparticle inks since inkjet-printed conductive lines must be highly conducting and narrow.

Learn more at the IDTechEx Show! in Berlin, April 27-28.

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