Interest in flexible electronics is growing.
Still a young market with its potential yet to be defined, the global flexible electronics market is poised to see compounded annual growth rate of close to 67% between 2016 and 2020, according to Technavio analysts' latest report.
Image courtesy: University of Minnesota
While its worldwide appeal is increasing, the Asia Pacific region is leading the way. That's partly because of the number of display device manufacturers and OLED panel manufacturers in the region, and the well established supply chain for display devices continue to help the area stay ahead, the firm said.
"APAC is a hub for flat panel TV manufacturers, smartphone manufacturers, tablet manufacturers, and wearable device manufacturers," said Sunil Kumar Singh, a leaf analyst at Technavio for research on embedded systems, in a written statement. "Most of these manufacturers are based in South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, and China. Samsung and LG are the major vendors in the market and have introduced curved panel smartphones."
There are a few indications that the pace will pick up. For instance, companies like Samsung and LG are expanding their capacity, as prototyping and manufacturing planning times shrinks from years to weeks and months.
Also, 2016 is seeing more innovation for flexible electronics being applied and used across various industries. The market reach is going beyond smartphones and televisions. Uses cases are being established for tablets, projector screens, computer screens, sign boards, bill boards, and visual displays, according to Technavio.
Wearables, too, are leading flexible electronics out of the smart watch space and into flexible displays for the paper, medical surgery, aeronautical, education, gaming, and manufacturing, among others. Wearable batteries and their need for flexible design is compelling a change in batteries; more companies are replacing rigid coin cell batteries with printed batteries that flexible in size and shape. As battery technology advances and the power backup limitation caused by printed batteries is resolved, Technavio predicts that flexible electronics will see even more wins.
It helps that an US Department of Defense-backed organization is also pushing the envelope in this area.
NextFlex, America's Flexible Hybrid Electronics (FHE) Manufacturing Innovation Institute, recently announced the first four recipients (out of eight contracts awarded) from the institute's inaugural project call.
The value of all eight contracts is $14.8 million, with $8.6 million of that being cost-shared by the recipients.This is part of $75 million in funding over the next five years that was from the DoD's initial award last fall, according to NextFlex.
The first four contracts were awarded to:
- Purdue University with industrial partner Integra Life Sciences, along with Western Michigan University and Indiana University School of Medicine.
- California Polytechnic State University (Cal Poly) together with its industry partners, Jabil Circuit, DuPont and NovaCentrix.
- Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) and their partner University of California at San Diego.
- Binghamton University (BU), who is partnering with GE Global Research, i3 Electronics, Infinite Corridor Technologies, Rochester Institute of Technology, Analog Devices and Corning Inc.
Just looking at the list of these names makes my imagination run wild with the kinds of projects they will be working on and what products will ultimately come to market.
Where do flexible electronics fit into your product development plans?