Conductive ink market finds new growth channels, says IDTechEx

August 11, 2015 // By Julien Happich
Core applications of PV and touch panels continue to grow demand, but new opportunities emerge in form the form of wearable technology, circuit boards and structural electronics, observes Dr Khasha Ghaffarzadeh, Head of Consulting at market research firm IDTechEx.

The company's latest report Conductive Ink Markets 2015-2025: Forecasts, Technologies, Players finds that the market for conductive inks and pastes will reach USD2.8 billion in 2020, and thereafter USD3 billion in 2025.

Growth is back in the PV sector
The photovoltaic market has traditionally dominated the conductive paste market. Here, firing type silver pastes are screen printed atop billions of photovoltaic silicon wafers. The PV market experienced a drastic consolidation period between 2007 and 2014, causing the paste market to dip and also to consolidate. Growth is however now back in the underlying PV sector, causing volume demand to grow despite the gradual annual decline in silver content per wafer.

Copper enters the touch screen markets
The touch screen market is growing even though the uptake of large-sized touch has lagged expectation. Here, low temperature silver pastes are screen printed as the edge electrodes. A big trend is towards narrowing the bezel even more in order to make thinner bezels around screens which consumers prefer. This trend will ultimately push screen printing beyond its limits in the long term and will open door for other printing methods.

There is also continued pressure to switch to copper based inks to reduce cost. Here, suppliers want to offer the same for less. There has been tremendous effort but copper is far behind silver in its technology learning curve and technical challenges still need to be ironed out. However, IDTechEx expects that the rising sales figures for innovative sintering machines (machines that prevent copper oxidization) to finally open the door for the flow of copper sales. This is a space to watch closely.

Fresh enthusiasm for silver nanoparticles
The market for silver nanoparticles remains small but the mood is changing. Larger companies have entered the scene, helping change a landscape previously in exclusive possession of small players. There is a robust and diverse application pipeline emerging and success in one will transform the fortune of the industry. According to Ghaffarzadeh, these are critical years for this industry as suppliers seek to evolve out of custom development work with select customers to large scale volume sales.

The new battlegrounds
Wearable electronics is now trending and so the topic is on all suppliers’ agenda including conductive inks suitable for textiles. Many detect an opportunity in creating speciality inks that can be washed and stretched. The idea is that the printed inks can act either as an interconnect or a piezoresistive sensor on textiles.

We are at the beginning of the beginning, notes the analyst. At this stage, we witness many electronic-on-textile product concepts being quickly prototyped and marketed by nimble, small players. Many suppliers now set up partnerships with these small players to test out the markets. This sector is however far from mature and inks suppliers need to change formulation so their inks survive tough washing, stretching and adhesion tests. The race is on but all ink suppliers are keen to enable e-textile possibilities.