Plastic will reshape the electronics industry - report

Chicago (IL) - Plastic electronics, based on conductive polymers and flexible substrates, will change the face of electronics, according to market research firm NanoMarkets. The technology is on its way to grab substantial market shares in displays, memories and processors and market volume is expected to surge to $5.8 billion within five years.

Announcements such as Seiko Epson's flexible asynchronous microprocessor built on polysilicon thin-film transistors (LTPS-TFTs) on a plastic substrate may soon be not so unusual anymore. In fact, analysts from NanoMarkets believe that plastic electronics could change the face of the electronics industry and soon reach a market volume in the billions of dollars.

The research firm forecasts that the worldwide plastic electronics market will grow to $5.8 billion in 2009, and reach $23.5 billion by 2012. In 2009, NanoMarkets expects displays to account for 46 percent of the plastic electronics market and memory for about 38 percent. By 2012, the markets for logic/processors, flexible solar panels and sensors will also reach billion-dollar levels, according to the firm.

Today it is unclear which applications will be dominated by plastic electronics a few years down the road. However we already see the technology making inroads on roll-up displays, advertising screens, flexible solar panels that can be laminated to walls and RFID tags that could replace bar codes in retail outlets. NanoMarkets expects plastic electronics to appear in computer displays in 2006, TV screens in 2008, processors in 2008, memory in 2007 and lighting applications in 2010.

Initial advantages of plastic compared to traditional CMOS technology will include cheaper manufacturing cost that will not require ten-figure investments from chip builders, but circuits will rather be printed with ink-jet technologies. This will also bring new competition to the market opens the field for firms such as Xerox and Hewlett-Packard, both with significant experience in non-impact printing.

According to NanoMarkets, the opportunities of plastic electronics still are covered in a cloud of uncertainty. While the current generation of plastic electronics is pitched at markets in which it will not compete with CMOS, no one really knows how and where the material and technology platforms will ultimately compete, the firm said. The technology appears to be some way from offering an alternative to CMOS-based processing and logic, but some of the theoretical work that has been done suggests that organic material could be used to create processors up to 1 THz, the firm said.