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Flexible electronics equipment makers turn to Asia

Posted: 21 Oct 2015 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:flexible electronics? printed electronics? screen printing? value chain?

There are more than 100 organisations that supply equipment or consumables to enable the manufacturing of flexible or printed electronics, and most of them are based in Europe. The rest are found in the United States and in Asia.

Germany has more equipment makers than other countries in Europe, but as funding in the continent saturates, the market is turning towards Asia for sales of flexible and printed electronics manufacturing equipment.

While initially the printed, organic and flexible electronics industry was driven by significant investment and technological development from the fine chemicals industry, the equipment sector followed soon after. Those involved in screen printing and screen printing consumables have had the largest market so far in printed electronics given that the equipment is used in commercial products, such as solar cells and glucose test strips.

For more emerging printed electronics processes, such as inkjet printing, specialist coating systems applied to printed electronics, gravure and flexo, the market has been smaller but quickly growing. Predominately, most of the sales of such systems have been to Europe. This has been due to a high and consistent level of funding made available from European funding sources in addition to country-specific funding programmes.

The graphic below illustrates how this looks:

Printed electronics is, in most European countries, a relatively high prioritisation category for funding. Many of the funding sources have found that one of the most useful things to kick-start the industry in Europe would be to make equipment available. This will allow people to develop, prototype, pilot and even make small quantities of their product without the need for them to buy their own equipment, which is capital intensive and high risk since development still has to occur.

As a result, many printed electronics centres have been created, as shown in the image below. The light green markers show centres that are in the process of being set up; the darker green are more established centres. Some markers represent numerous centres.

Printed electronics centre

(Source: IDTechEx report Printing Equipment for Printed Electronics 2015-2025)

European government funding for equipment declines

However, current equipment demand has mostly been met for the government-funded programmes. Companies engaged outside of the government-funded projects, of course, are buying equipment, but the main funding until now has come from governments. For equipment supply companies, many of which have enjoyed a good profitable period with top line sales growth, there is now a void as European companies' appetite for equipment lags behind that of government-funded programmes.

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