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Rise of Printed Electronics Opens Door to Upgrading for Taiwanese Printing Machine Makers

Feb 19, 2014 | By CENS

Printing has evolved remarkably since the days of manual typesetting decades ago as used in  publication and traditional manufacturing industries. Recent breakthroughs have realized 3D printing that would have seemed science fiction even a decade ago, with printed electronics also being a trend expected to help Taiwanese printing machine manufacturers to accelerate upgrading.

Metal Industries Research & Development Centre (MIRDC), a Taiwanese government-funded R&D institute, noted that printing is regarded the next-generation technology for manufacturing electronics, particularly RFID (radio frequency identification) systems, organic solar cells, flexible electronics and organic light emitting diode-backlit displays.

Firstly, MIRDC pointed out that development of semiconductor and electronic packaging technologies required to achieve high density, high functional integration and low energy consumption to address eco-friendly issues is a growth driver for applications of printed electronics.

Continuously improved printing technologies also accelerate the trend. MIRDC pointed out that ever more advanced printing processes are adopted by electronics makers, including ink jet printing, screen printing, flexography printing and gravure printing, coupled with roll-to-roll printing machines, enabling them to turn out printed circuits with much smaller trace width than that through conventional lithography.

In short, MIRDC noted, printing processes have five distinct advantages over lithography process: lower production costs, higher resolutions, larger-scale production, more suitable for flexible substrates, and fewer production processes required to cut waste, hence increasingly sought-after by electronics makers.

A real example is the 7-in-1 Precision Roll-to-Roll Printing Technology announced by Industrial Technology Research Institute, a Taiwanese R&D institute, last year, a cutting-edge technology that replaces the need for seven different pieces of equipment, for conventional sputtering, resist-coating, baking, exposure, developing, etching, and stripping, with a single direct-printing station, enabling printing of sub-10μm fine metal lines and enhances material utilization from 10% to 90%, as well as bringing significant environmental and cost advantages.

ITRI introduced then that the roll-to-roll technology is a world's first using fine-line and direct printing to lay out electrical wires with sub-20µm width on ultrathin glass substrates to produce touch panels. With more and more electronic devices featuring ultra-narrow bezel designs, and bezel width resting with conducting wire's width and grid interval, the technology can also help manufacturers to work out even narrower bezels, as it can print out electrical wires with sub-20µm width, compared to ordinary screen printing and gravure printing, which produces wires with width of 60-80µm and 30-50µm, respectively.

Brisk Market GrowthAlthough still being developed, the global market for printed electronics is full of growth potential.

Presently, MIRDC reported that about 3,000 enterprises and research institutes worldwide are developing and manufacturing printed electronics, including 1,050 in Europe, 975 in North America and 825 in East Asia. Of the total, 860 companies are from the optoelectronics and photovoltaic sector, 810 from the display and lighting sectors, 550 from the transfer resistor sector and 780 from other sectors. This indicates that mainstream printed electronics on the market include photovoltaic products, displays, lighting, transfer resistors, batteries and sensors.

Citing a forecast by IETechEx, a Japanese market research firm, MIRDC stated that with smaller-sized, more portable, lighter, more durable, better integrated electronic devices popular with consumers, the global market for printed electronics will explosively surge from US$9 billion in 2012 to US$63 billion by 2022, and further shoot up to US$300 billion at an compound annual growth rate of 21% by 2032, when US$115 billion of the total will be generated by organic LED-backlit displays, US$62 billion by solar cells and panels, US$40 billion by logic memory products, US$25 billion by organic LEDs, and US$20 billion by other kinds of displays.

SuggestionsFor Taiwanese companies interested in the potentially lucrative market, MIRDC opines that they have to build an integrated supply chain consisting of upstream material suppliers, midstream machinery manufacturers and downstream customers of printed electronic applications, also providing  suggestions to develop the market.

Given that production of printed electronics calls for technologies and know-how from different fields while related applied technologies still need time to improve, MIRDC stressed that Taiwanese companies should take advantage of cross-industry partnerships, from printing, electronics to materials, packaging and plastics industries, to facilitate exchanges of technology and talent to attain an intact, sustainable printed electronics supply chain.

To that end, printing machine makers will play pivotal role, and likely enjoy a promising future, given that IDTechEX predicts over US$189 billion of printed electronics will be in demand in Asia by 2032. Therefore, MIRDC advises  machinery manufacturers to tap synergy with R&D institutes, academia, and industry, work closely with counterparts and ask for support from  government to jointly develop needed models. This will not just help insiders to move advance but leverage the sector's overall competitiveness in the future. (SC)

Structure of Global Market for Printed Electronics by 2023
Product Category
Share Commanded
OLED Displays
38%
Solar Panels
21%
Memory
13%
OLEDs
8%
Other Displays
7%
Electrophoresis and Related Products
5%
Others
3%
Touch Sensors
2%
Batteries
2%
Connectors
1%
Electrochromic Products
0.5%
Electroluminescent Products
0.5%
Source: IDTechEX, Metal Industries Research & Development Centre


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