TREND Organic Electronics: Curved and bendy

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Organic electronics has long since found its way into everyday life. In the future it could also change it significantly.

While organic electronics is known by many names, i.e. plastic electronics, polymer electronics, polytronics – they all mean the same thing: microelectronic components on substrate material made from organic foils with conducting paths and components made from conductive organic molecules. Printed electronics as we know it is just one aspect of organic electronics. That said, print technology is the preferred manufacturing process, as it is unrivaled in terms of its simplicity, cost-effectiveness and environmental compatibility. OLED displays are still manufactured primarily however with vacuum deposition (evaporation).

Organic, non-printed OLEDs and conductive ink constitute the lion’s share of the global polymer electronics market. According to a new study published by the British market research institute IDTechEx, this market is set to grow from just under $ 24 billion to around $ 70 billion in the next ten years.

In terms merely of flexible OLED displays and hard plastic OLEDs, as found in the Galaxy Round from Samsung, analysts expect global sales to hit $ 16 billion by 2020. The first bendable smartphone displays are set to come on stream in 2017.

Modest sales – massive growth rates

IDTechEX: Global sales of OLED displays are expected to hit $ 16 billion by 2020.
IDTechEX: Global sales of OLED displays are expected to hit $ 16 billion by 2020.

While the market for small format OLED displays as used in smart watches or for large format displays as used in OLED TVs is still modest, the high growth rates are impressive.Market research company IHS is predicting that the display market in the area of so-called wearable electronics will record sales of just under $ 23 billion by 2023. And the percentage of flexible display variants is set to grow enormously by 2020.

AMOLED displays (active matrix OLED) from Samsung could also receive a considerable boost in the coming years. Although manufacturing costs are still some 10 to 20 % higher than for TFT-LCDs, NPD DisplaySearch is predicting in its “OLED Technology Report” that manufacturing costs for AMOLED cellphone panels will fall within the next two years to below those for cellphone LCDs owing to continuous improvements in production yield.

Small yet big potential

Flexible electronics, logic and storage as well as thin-film sensors are still a very small piece of the “organic” pie, but offer huge growth potential. The IDTechEx analysts are predicting high growth rates for printed and flexible sensors in the coming years, with another billion expected to be added by 2020 to the global sales figure of $ 6.3 billion recorded in 2013.

The market is currently dominated by biosensors – primarily glucose test strips for diabetics. However, new materials and manufacturing processes are offering better opportunities for other sensor types, such as for hybrid CMOS image sensors, which should secure the second largest market share in the coming years. A tripling of market share is expected for the already established piezoresistive sensors by 2018, corresponding to an annual growth rate of 23 percent. The two biggest market segments for these sensors at present are in Consumer Electronics and Healthcare. However the next five years will see Automotive take a larger share, ultimately outpacing Healthcare.