Stretchable electronics are set to become a $600-million market by 2027, according to a new report from IDTechEx Research.
The electronics industry is undergoing a major paradigm shift: novel form factors are emerging, ranging from the introduction of limited stretchability, through to ultra-elastic and conformable electronics. This transfiguration has been in the making for more than a decade now, but it is only now that it is beginning to make a substantial commercial impact.
This shift goes beyond the traditional incremental technology development along well-established industry lines. Instead, it seeks to create new functions, new applications, and new users. As such, this technology frontier currently only has vague figures-of-merit and limited insight on customer needs.
Opponents have long argued that this entire class of emerging materials/components is a classic case of technology-push: a solution looking for a problem. This view may have been justified in the early days, but we now see this trend as an essential step towards the inevitable endgame of new electronics: structural electronics.
Structural electronics is a disruptive megatrend that will transform traditional electronics from being components-in-a-box into truly invisible electronics that are part of the structure of the world around us. This is a major long-term shift that will lead to a root-and-branch change of the electronic industry, including its value chain, its materials, and its components.
Stretchable and conformable electronics is giving shape to this megatrend. The material and components menu for stretchable electronic is already very extensive: it includes basic and comparatively more mature technologies such as inks, transparent conductive films, and sensors, but also more complex devices such as transistors, batteries, energy harvesters, displays and so on.
The contours of the application space are also now emerging. Electronic textile products with conductive inks and polymers have already been commercially launched and a maturing industry will lead to increased volumes with more competitive pricing in the coming years.
In-mold electronics (IME) products are in the final stages of qualification for high-volume whitegoods and automotive applications. IDTechEx expects notable commercial launches for IME products in 2017 after years of on-and-off starts. Here, stretchable conductive inks will be the first to reach the markets but the industry is already expanding its toolkit to include IME-compatible transparent conductive film (carbon nanotubes, metal mesh, PEDOT, silver nanowires, etc) and sensors/actuators.
The report, “Stretchable Electronics 2017-2027”, gives a critical assessment of all the technologies including stretch sensors; ink-, yarn-, or wire-based stretchable interconnects; in-mold electronic inks and transparent conductive films; stretchable batteries, energy harvesters, displays, logic and more.