Printing technology is widely used to decorate items from architectural and automotive glass to ceramics, electronics, and textiles –with new functions including biomedical and photovoltaics becoming significant. Futuristic applications are emerging from development laboratories, with headlines involving printing human tissue, synthetic meat, new classes of nanomaterials and professional 3D printing that some commentators suggest will revolutionise manufacturing.
There is consistent growth across the industrial functional landscape as demand grows for construction, automotive, electronics and manufactured products that increasingly incorporate print. This is in stark contrast to publication and commercial print, where print volumes are declining. Many established printers serving those markets are looking to follow the example of large Japanese print companies and move into industrial markets, where they can use their core skills. It is also attractive to equipment and consumable suppliers to develop niche applications that may grow significantly, as is the case for inkjet printing of ceramic tiles.
Automotive and transport printing
Cars, buses, trucks, aeroplanes, trains and ships contain many printed items. There is upholstery, carpets, interior, switches, windows, dashboards and instrument panels. The print may be either decorative (for example a wood-effect interior) or functional (for example, the windscreen de-mister or radio aerials). In some cases it will be both: for example, the instrument panels will be designed to be easy to understand, with opaque panels interspersed with translucent colours showing alarms.
This segment consumes some 15% of the total float glass production, but this tends to be higher value. Speciality grades, such as shatterproof, are commonly used: 95% of this consumption is for automotive (including cars, vans, buses and coaches, trucks, and off-road mobile machinery); the rest is for other transport sectors, such as trains, metros, trams, ships, boats, and aircraft. As well as original equipment for new vehicles, there are replacement products, supplied to the aftermarket for retrofitting (usually following damage), with the latter representing some 15–20% of the market.
Using print to print electronic circuitry – membrane switches, RFID antennas, display panels and photovoltaics – is already big business for many suppliers, and the potential applications are creating many opportunities. The printing of electronics is an emerging technology that allows electronic functionality to be delivered on to a far wider range of substrates than conventional rigid electronic fabrication methods. For example flexible plastic substrates can be used for skin-mounted disposable medical sensors.
Asia is the biggest region for printed electronics. It is a low-cost manufacturing centre and is home to many large, innovative electronics companies making smartphones, TVs and displays, lighting, and solar panels, many using printing as part of the production process. South Korean rivals LG and Samsung have both committed heavily to printed electronics for OLED fabrication – including to help develop flexible screen for smart devices.
Applications for printed electronics - Labels and packaging
As the unit price for a printed electronic system falls – with claims that mass-produced circuits that will sell at around $0.10 are due for 2016 – smart packaging is set to become a reality. It may even evolve into what futurists are heralding as the “Internet of Packaging”. Across the value chain, brands, packaging suppliers and retailers are keen to embrace this technology for applications, including:
Anti-counterfeiting / brand protection
Monitoring a pack’s contents.
These functions can be framed within the umbrella term of “smart packaging”, a set of technologies that allows packaging to contain, evaluate, and transmit relevant information.
Applications for printed electronics - Solar panels and photovoltaics (PV)
Printed solar panels and films represent a major future market. There are environmental benefits of renewable energy sources as alternatives to fossil fuels pushing the sector forward. In Europe and North America, attractive feed-in tariffs and government subsidies have fuelled the take-up of roof-mounted solar cells, which are becoming commonplace in a number of regions.
Printable solar cells seem to open up new opportunities, but the efficiency of the energy harvester must be higher to be truly useful. Sustainable micro power generation will grow to be an important part of the energy mix in future, but the global economic woes have slowed the take-up of such systems.
Screen printing is well suited for printing electronics because it can lay down thick ink films: up to 50μ can be achieved using paste inks that can contain high loadings of conductive components. It can print conductive connectors, together with insulating and passivating layers, and has been used in production of membrane switches for many years.
Screen is also used widely in printed circuit board manufacture, to print identifiers, solder masks and other components. It is also widely used to print coatings onto touchscreens. In 2010 the screen electronics print market was $3.6 billion. This grew by more than 25% CAGR to 2015, with further growth of 12.7% predicted to 2020, when the value grows to over 19% of all functional industrial functional print.
The global market potential of this dynamic technology sector are analysed and quantified in full The Future of Functional and Industrial Print to 2020. The market data presented in this report has been developed from the extensive database, with primary research sources and discussions with leading players across the supply chain. Smithers Apex uses primary research cross referenced against secondary sources. For more information, please contact: Stephen Hill, +44 (0)1372 802025.