Printed Electronics in Asia; the Hot Sectors
3:57 AM MDT | August 2, 2010 | By CARA VAN HEEST
Marketing Manager, IDTechEx (Cambridge, U.K.), a market research and consulting firm
There are about 3,000 organizations worldwide actively involved in the development of printed electronics. By number of organizations, Europe has the edge over the U.S., then comes Asia. However, this disguises the fact that those involved in Asia tend to be large conglomerates that can invest much more than those in the West. Territories that are most active in these topics are Japan, Korea, China and Taiwan.
The display business is huge and there is significant progress and development by East Asian companies in a number of different printed display technologies. Over the past few years there has been some consolidation in OLEDs, for example, with LG buying Kodak's IP in this area and Sumitomo buying CDT. Earlier this year, Samsung underlined its commitment to OLEDs by announcing a $2.5 billion budget for OLED manufacture and others such as LG, Sony and Panasonic are also dedicated to this sector. The focus is on televisions and recent press announcements state that OLED TVs will become cost competitive with LCD TVs as early as 2014. Material and equipment supply is much more global however, with many companies in the West participating now in what will be a huge opportunity, particularly as it is expected to mimic the LCD market - which is currently more than $100 billion.
Display activity is not all about OLEDs, however, as Asian companies tie up the leaders in electrophoretics. PVI, having acquired E Ink, has chosen to rebrand itself using its acquirers company name, showing its dedication to the technology. In a recent interview with IDTechEx, E Ink confirmed that several Asian companies will launch colour e-readers this year. Display giant AUO purchased a 30% stake in SiPix, another e-paper vendor, who do their manufacturing in Taiwan and Wistron, also of Taiwan, acquired Dutch-based PolymerVision, working on foldable e-reading devices.
China has shown the way to reducing the cost of another printable display - AC Electroluminescent (ACEL) displays - with many companies based there able to produce even small quantities of large area ACEL displays for $10 each or less, including the driver electronics. These are widely used in promotional short term applications. Indeed, it is not difficult to find t-shirts in supermarkets bearing EL displays complete with microphones so that the display interacts with the environment.
Those involved in material and equipment supply need to pay attention to the region, as it will continue to be the territory where most displays are made. That is why IDTechEx is holding its annual Printed Electronics Asia event in Hong Kong, at the centre of all of this activity, with speakers from companies such as E Ink, Liquavista and Bridgestone.
Over recent years China has crept up to become the world's largest manufacturer of photovoltaics. Huge investment in silicon refining and manufacture has resulted in conventional silicon PV prices tumbling - to the point that some technologies such as a-Si thin film PV are struggling to compete. There is great interest in other forms of thin film PV which can see costs fall further or enable new markets through new form factors such as semi-transparency and flexibility.
Asia has tremendous capacity to manufacture many new products using the latest printed, flexible electronics. Toppan Forms of Japan, for example, have for many years sold "audio paper" - cards featuring thin film batteries, printed conductors, etc, which can be used to record and play back messages. They have recently demonstrated posters with flexible OLEDs. The topic has not escaped the attention of those involved in printing either - they realise printing electronics involves new materials and frequently requires new printers. We have seen China rising in terms of manufacture of RFID tags - with many using printed conductive inks for antennas. Those involved in making books, electronic gift cards and much more are actively pursuing the topic - that is why one of the event sponsors is a major printing company based in mainland China and Hong Kong.
Printed Electronics Asia 2010, the fourth annual IDTechEx conference in Asia, will be held on 13-14 October in Hong Kong. For more information see www.IDTechEx.com/peasia