An article by Raghu Das, CEO of IDTechEx, has identified what they say are the top trends, and the ones on which their Printed Electronics USA 2015 event focuses. Wearable technology is right at the top of their list, specifically, as a strong driver for the development of stretchable electronics, which enables devices that can conform and move with the human body. In addition to new materials, adhesives and component connections, key components like sensors, batteries and transistors are themselves now flexible.
Over the last 18 months, the article says, many players in the printed electronics industry have been moving from offering a component to making complete products. This has allowed new products and “market spaces” not previously feasible.
Flexible lighting and displays are on the rise creating opportunities for new materials and films, from flexible barrier materials to flexible backplanes. Industry participants are also prioritizing consumer electronics and automotive applications.
Structural electronics are replacing the old components-in-a-box approach with smart materials, such as load-bearing parts, smart skin and e-textiles, according to IDTechEx. For example, an interview the company conducted with one of the largest car Japanese companies revealed that their experimental 3D printing of ultra-lightweight car seats, based on bird bone structure, will now become 3D-PE with electrics and electronics built into the seat as it is grown.
Some of the additional technology developments include 3D printing combined with printed electronics, which has led to the development of new products; flexible and thin sensors rather than rigid; higher-powered energy harvesting using thermoelectrics and wind energy; flexible batteries, particularly for the wearables market; flexible photovoltaics for energy-independent vehicles; and virtual reality smart glasses and contact lenses.