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FLEXO Magazine : July 2008
INDUSTRY INDICATORS New Opportunities for Silver Conductive Inks S ilver conductive inks, pastes and conductive adhesives have been available to the electronics indus- try for decades. They have been used in a variety of so-called thick-film applications such as printed circuit boards, membrane switches, and automotive heaters. Thick- film electronics still generates hundreds of millions of dollars of business for silver inks, pastes and adhesives every year. With the rapid rise in the price of silver, inkmakers have begun to see opportuni- ties for other conductive inks, but silver is almost impossible to beat when it comes to conductivity. Today, the real opportunity for conduc- tive silver inks lies in a range of new ap- plications that include RFID tags, smart packaging, sensors and displays. These new applications require that the printing pro- cess be able to create very fine features; this new printed electronics is less like coating and more like creating a computer chip. By Lawrence Gasman Although screen printing has a role to play, it is really not up to all that the new printed electronics requires, either in terms of how fine it can carry out patterning or in its throughput; at least for the majority of screen printing machines. Understanding that, over the past few years, the printed electronics world has turned to industrial inkjet, which has many virtues including low ink wastage and the ability to create very small features. No one doubts that inkjet has an im- portant role to play in the future of printed electronics, but as the printed electronics industry ramps up to full production, some are questioning whether inkjet will have sufficient throughput for high volume ap- plications, such as smart packaging. They are, therefore, turning to flexography (and gravure) as an alternative. At this point both of these printing modes are seen primarily as high-volume alternatives to traditional screen and in- dustrial inkjet. There isn't much discussion in the printed electronics community at the present time about which is preferable, flexo or gravure. An advantage that flexo may bring to the table, in addition to high speeds, is the fact that-unlike inkjet it may not have the same need for inks that use silver nanoparticles and which tend, at least for the moment, to be more ex- pensive than conventional inks. (However, nanosilver inks also offer higher conduc- tivity and lower curing temperatures; ad- vantages that are attractive no matter what kind of printing is being used.) In N anoMarkets' recently published market analysis on silver inks, Silver Inks and Pastes for Printable Electronics: 2008-2015, we made the point that smaller firms have tried to stand out in the market by making conductive inks that are aimed at specific types of printing, and this is even truer today with the surge in importance in flexo and gravure. There may also be Eight-Year Forecasts of Silver Ink Market ($ Millions) 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 Flexo and gravure inks 13.5 34.7 60.6 110.5 175.3 296.7 438.9 533.1 All silver conductive inks 875.8 934.9 1,030.1 1,252.4 1,504.0 1,921.9 2,333.5 2,437.1 - J U L Y 2008 FLEXO www.flexography.org
Flexo Sustainable Fall 2008