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Growth expected for conductive inks and paste market

According to the latest ‘Conductive Inks 2016-2026: Forecasts, Technologies, Players’ research report from IDTechEx, the conductive inks and paste industry will produce an 1800 tonne demand this year, with IDTechEx research predicting that figure will increase to 2200 tonnes by 2026.

At least 17 upcoming application sectors were analysed including UF/UHF RFID tags, silicon solar cells, touch screen edge electrodes and 3D antennas. Photovoltaics The whole sector is in a process of change. In terms of pastes, low quality and low cost suppliers are beginning to overtake the initial market dominators.

This trend is expected to continue in the short term and in the long term, it is predicted to become a wholly Chinese business. As for powders, end users have been forced to use a more diversified supplier base instead of high quality products due to recent factory disruptions.

Touch screens This market is both changing and declining because of price competition that will further erode margins. As premium phones have adopted narrow bezel designs, performance requirements of screen printing and standard PTFs has increased, which has opened the market to photo-curable pastes. In the long term, this trend will favour alterative methods to printing.

Standard PTFs will continue to lose share but will remain substantial due to their low cost and the rise of low-cost devices. 3D antennas Aerosol deposition, a space saving technique that allows antennas to be directly placed on 3D surfaces, is gaining traction. It facilitates a change in design by a change in software and competes with LDS on cost.

Aerosol is predicted to become a major process for developing antennas in electronic devices, therefore establishing a market for silver nanoparticle inks. In-mould electronics (IME) IME, a process that blends graphical and electronic printing on a 2D sheet and then moulds it into a 3D shape, is set to make a comeback following setbacks from Ford.

This is especially beneficial for high volume production. IME will be useful in the automotive and consumer electronic sectors, maintaining opportunity for product optimisation and improvement.

Stretchable electronics According to the research, electronic textiles (e-textiles) are expected to grow from $AU100 million in 2015 to almost $AU3.2 billion in 2026 at the final product level. The sensors and interconnects are crucial aspects of all upcoming e-textile products. The number of e-textile products and prototypes with printed conductive lines is growing rapidly due to printing that is similar to a post-production process used in the textile industry.

As current inks do not meet all necessary performance requirements – with strict rules on stretchability, washability and adhesion – there is more space for innovation. 3D printed 3D printed electronics can alter standard plastic-based 3D printing to create arbitrarily-shaped and customised smart and electronic objects.

There is a rising interest in this process due to the recent increase in the number of approaches, ink suppliers, machines and prototypes. However, there are some technical challenges such as the printed embedded lines must give high conductivity even at a low annealing temperature. Desktop PCB Printing Printed electronics seeks to return ‘printing’ to the printed circuit board (PCB) industry.

This rise in desktop PCB printers is intended for both professional and hobbyist markets. The machines for hobbyists are simpler and can develop crude wide-track single or double-sided PCBs. These machines will eventually lose the competition between simple CNC milling machines. Alternatively, more complex multi-layer PCB boards are sought by professional desktop printers.

These aim to let designers retain circuit IP in house, minimise the prototyping time and become cost competitive with standard process at low volumes. It presents an opportunity for silver nanoparticle inks as inkjet-printed conductive lines have to be narrow and high conducting.

RFID At the tag level, RFIDs will become a $AU7 billion business in 2026. Printing has again become a key competitor for manufacturing RFID antennas. The price of silver has dropped, bring down the BoM, while the industry is expected to have almost full capacity operation, thus creating opportunity for investment in a new industrial process. RFID antenna printing has already been used on a large scale by UHF and HF RFID firms, with the report anticipating that this trend will continue.

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