Conductive Ink Markets 2017-2027: Forecasts, Technologies, Players

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This report provides the most comprehensive and authoritative view of the 1900 tpa conductive inks and paste market, giving detailed ten-year market forecasts segmented by application and material type. The market forecasts are given in tonnage and value at the ink level.

It includes critical reviews of all the competing conductive inks and paste technologies including firing-types pastes, PTFs, laser-cut or photo-patterned pastes, nanoparticles, stretchable inks, in-mould inks, copper, copper/silver alloys, nanocarbons, and more. Here, we outline the latest performance levels/progress, technology challenges, key suppliers, existing and emerging target market, and forecasts where appropriate.

It also provides a detailed assessment of more than 25 application sectors. Here, we analyse the market needs/requirements, discuss the business dynamics, market leadership and technology change trends, competing solutions, latest product/prototype launches, key players and market forecasts in tonnes and value.

The markets covered include photovoltaics, touch screen edge electrodes, automotive (defoggers, seat occupancy sensors, seat heaters, etc), in-mould electronics (automotive, home appliance, etc.), Electronic textile and wearable electronics, 3D antennas and conformal printing, EMI Shielding, 3D printed electronics, ITO replacement (hybrid, direct printing, etc), printed piezoresistive, capacitive and bio sensors, PCB (DIY/hobbyist, professional, seed-and-plate), RFID (HF, UHF), printed TFT and memory, OLED and large-area LED lighting, flexible e-readers and reflective displays, large-area heaters (battery, plant, seat, etc), conductive pens, digitizers and more.

In the report we also cover more than 130 companies. For most, we provide insights based on primary intelligence obtained through interviews, visits, conference exhibition interactions, personal communications, and so on. For more than 50 we provide full interview-based company profiles including a detailed SWOT analysis and Index. These provide valuable insight on company positioning, strategy, opportunities, and challenges.

Unrivalled market intelligence and insight

This report is based upon years of research. In the past five years alone, our analysts have interviewed more than 100 industry players, visited numerous users/ suppliers across the world, attended more than 20 relevant conferences/exhibitions globally, and worked with many industry players to help them with their strategy towards this market. For example, last year alone we visited 10 tradeshows in Japan, USA, Taiwan, Korea, Germany, UK and so on to update our report. Prior to this, our analysts played an active role in commercializing conductive pastes, particularly in the photovoltaic industry.

In parallel to this, the author has organised the leading global conferences and tradeshows on printed electronics for the past decade in Asia, Europe and USA. These shows bring together the entire value chain on printed electronics, including all the conductive ink suppliers, printers, and end users. This has given us unrivalled access to the players and the latest market intelligence.

In search of the next big thing

The conductive ink industry is still in search of the next big thing. Adverse competitive pressures in core volume markets has led most suppliers to seek new nascent opportunities. The prevalent strategy is now to have as broad a product portfolio as possible, seeding multiple nascent markets, garnering as much customer feedback as possible, and establishing value networks early on.

Suppliers also now intensely watch one another, rapidly launching comparable products which results in an erosion of differentiation. This puts suppliers in a bind: on the one hand, they want to keep technologies secret for long to perfect them in-house, but, on the other hand, they must take it to the market early because they crave customer feedback in new markets where neither the figures-of-merit nor customer needs are well known.

Despite all this, the industry has identified multiple emerging applications areas in the 2013-2016 period as it seeks to rejuvenate itself.

Changing business landscape

The volume photovoltaic market will do well in the first half of 2017 thanks to the looming end of feed-in-tariff in China. This will spell good news for paste and powder suppliers, however the industry will remain concerned that it may reach peak silver consumption soon in this highly cost competitive market that sees only incremental innovation.

The touch screen edge electrode market continues to be shaped by the perennial trend to narrow the bezel. This trend has already led to the introduction of new photo-patterned and laser-cut pastes to achieve L/S of 20/20. Such ink innovations have so far enabled printing to stay competitive, but the industry remains concerned here too that sputtering will become even more of a threat in the coming years as the L/S shrinks further.

New growth opportunities emerge

The behind-the-scenes interest in in-mold electronics (IME) remains robust. In fact the industry is on the cusp of success after several false starts. The first wave of products are close to market launch, the value networks are being enhanced, and the volume manufacturers are more engaged than ever.

The number of stretchable pastes keeps on increasing. Two years or so ago only a few suppliers offered such inks but in the past quarter alone we have interacted with at least ten suppliers. More ink-based e-textile products are being launched but volumes remain small and the value chain weak. The industry however has increasing momentum as it searches for its first major success story.

Aerosol and other non-contact printing processes are now a major contender for printing antennas and other conductive traces on 3D objects. The production capacity now exists, particularly in Asia and many material suppliers have qualified their products with these process. Commercial progress is set continue here.

EMI shielding is emerging as new area of interest. We expect the number of chips with conformal EMI shielding coatings on consumer electronics to rapidly increase. The competition will be between sputtering and ink spraying, and within inks the competition will be on particle size with nano inks offering thinness whilst others offer lower costs.

Directly printed metal mesh films with linewidths below 5um are now possible, although most prototypes still in the pilot phase. Nonetheless, they represent a long-term risk to other metal mesh processes in an increasingly cost-sensitive industry. Several silver nanoparticle TCF technologies have lost commercial momentum, but new novel ones are emerging to take their place. Hybrid solutions also continue with their stop-start commercial progress.

In the automotive industry applications such as printed seat occupancy sensors, printed capacitive sensors for infotainments modules, and seat heaters will largely continue their progress. The efforts to develop and commercially print window de-foggers on polycarbonate substrates will also intensify, whilst printed metal mesh for window de-foggers will appear on the early-stage technology roadmap of major OEMs.

3D printed electronics (3DPE) remains an innovation opportunity front. The number of dedicated 3DPE printers is set to rise whilst ink suppliers will develop low-temperature inks compatible with a variety of substrates. Hobbyist/DIY PCB printers will see diminished interest as the buzz dissipates, whilst printers aimed at the professional end of the market slowly will penetrate the market. The seed-and-plate PCB approach will become more technologically mature but will struggle to find a sufficient cost advantage to force a widespread switch.

Printed large-area piezoresistive, capacitive and biosensors are set to become one of the largest constituents of the greater printed electronics industry. Here, inks will be used as printed bus bars and interconnects. Despite technology improvements, printed transistor and memory will remain in search of applications. Special formulations for printed backplane interconnects on flexible e-readers and flexible displays will see small boom in the short- to medium-term. Large-area LED arrays made with printing will slowly find their way into the market although competition from FPCB remains whilst the primary challenge will be developing and selling end lighting products.

There are numerous other applications that are being developed for conductive paste which we consider in our report in detail. Examples include heating, battery pack and plant heaters, frequency-selective windows, and many more.

Nobody wants to be left behind

These markets however represent the future growth opportunities. Indeed, as shown below, the author forecasts that these emerging sectors will grow to nearly become a $400m market opportunity by 2027.

The ship is sailing now and nobody wants to be left behind. This is why companies are now allocating resources, iterating formulations, and developing commercial ecosystems. This is why the conductive ink business has come alive again.