Expert's Opinion

The Conductive Inks and Paste Business: Everything is Changing

By Dr. Khasha Ghaffarzadeh, Yasuo Yamamoto and Dr. Harry Zervos, IDTechEx | February 7, 2017

Silver flake, silver nanoparticles, copper inks and pastes, graphene and beyond.

Everything is changing in the conductive inks and paste business. IDTechEx estimates that the conductive inks and pastes market will reach nearly $1.7 billion in 2026 at current metal prices. Micro-sized silver conductive pastes will dominate the market, controlling nearly the entire market in 2016.
 
Silver nanoparticles will, however, become increasingly competitive, finding use in a range for emerging applications sectors to become an $80 million market in 2026. Copper will remain a comparatively immature technology, but will achieve limited success as novel curing systems are installed to open the door to copper ink sales.
 
The solar panel industry will be 1.5k ton market in 2016 for screenprinted firing-type conductive pastes. At the paste level, a new group of suppliers will soon come to dominate this business, while at the powder level, the users will force through a more diversified supplier base.
 
The touch screen edge electrode market will continue its decline. The linewidth-over-spacing (L/S) has decreased to 20/20, pushing screenprinting with standard PTFs beyond its limits and opening the door to photocurable pastes. Etching-based techniques will find additional opportunities as the bezel is further narrowed whilst standard PTFs will retain some share in the low-cost end of the market.
 
Sensors such as car occupancy sensors, printed piezoresistive sensors and some versions of glucose sensors will remain a substantial niche market for conductive pastes, as will the automotive sector with its mixed grouping of stagnant traditional and high-growth emerging applications. HF and UHF RFID antenna markets will grow but will see the relative market share of ink types transform over the coming decade.
 
3D antennas made using aerosol printing will continue gaining traction. This approach will compete head-on with MID (molded interconnect devices) techniques and will become a substantial player in the consumer electronics market. Metal mesh as an ITO alternative will make slow inroads despite the pending consolidation period in the TCF industry, creating demand for silver nanoparticle used in filling or printing fine lines.
 
New markets will emerge and create new performance requirements. In-mold electronics will demand inks that can stretch and survive the thermoforming/molding process. Electronic textiles will require inks that are truly stretchable and withstand repeated washing cycles. 3D printed electronics and desktop PCB printers will need the high conductivity and low temperature inks to open vast new prototyping possibilities for 3D printers and circuit designers. All these markets are poised for rapid growth provided technology innovations can satisfy the market pull.
 
Note that ink selling prices have declined due to a decline in raw metal prices but also pressured margins, resulting in a decrease in our revenue forecasts.
 
Conductive Ink Markets 2017-2027: Forecasts, Technologies, Players,” IDTechEx’s latest report on the conductive ink and paste market, provides a comprehensive view of the conductive inks and paste market, giving detailed 10-year market forecasts segmented by application and material type, as well as a detailed analysis of at least 17 existing and emerging application sectors.
 
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