Market Research Report
Printed and Flexible Sensors 2022-2032: Technologies, Players, Markets
|Printed and Flexible Sensors 2022-2032: Technologies, Players, Markets|
Published: September 10, 2021
Content info: 468 Slides
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Printed and Flexible Sensors 2022-2032: Technologies, Players, Markets
Market for printed sensors including biosensors, organic photodetectors, skin patch and medical electrodes, force and piezoresistive sensors, piezoelectric, temperature, capacitive touch sensors, stretchable strain sensors.
"Demand for connected sensor networks will drive printed sensor market to $4.9 billion by 2032."
Printed sensors are a rapidly growing technology that offer low-cost processing, flexible thin-film form factor and large area sensing, making them suitable for emerging applications such as the Internet of Things (IoT), Industry 4.0, continuous health monitoring and more. This market research report covers the technology and applications of printed photodetectors, piezoresistive and piezoelectric pressure sensors, strain sensors, temperature sensors, printed electrodes, biosensors, and capacitive touch sensors.
Printed and flexible sensors constitute the largest printed electronics market outside of displays. Indeed, we forecast that the market for fully printed sensors will reach 4.9 billion by 2032. This takes place despite the sustained displacement of its largest market - printed glucose test strips - with continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) approaches. Market growth is therefore enabled by the rise of many new applications and technologies.
This report covers the entire printed and flexible sensor landscape. More specifically, it covers:
We also provide case studies of multi-parameter sensors which utilize the ability of multiple solution processed functionalities to either be printed in parallel or laminated. Printed sensors of course need a readout mechanism along with antennas and a power supply, so we include the integration of printed sensors within the emerging manufacturing methodology of flexible hybrid electronics (FHE).
Printed sensors span a diverse range of technologies and applications, ranging from image sensors to wearable electrodes. Each sensor category seeks to offers a distinct value proposition over the incumbent technology, with distinct technological and commercial challenges on route to widespread adoption.
Despite this diversity, there are multiple factors that are driving the adoption of many types of printed/flexible sensors. Most important is the increasing adoption of 'IoT' and 'Industry 4.0' since they will require extensive networks of often wirelessly connected low-cost and unobtrusive sensors. Additionally, the thin-film form factor and conformality of printed/flexible sensors enable them to be incorporated within smaller devices, thus providing increased freedom for designers to differentiate their products and potentially new use cases.
Large area image sensors based on printed organic photodiodes (OPDs) are an innovative technology, representing a complete change from the conventional CMOS-based image detection. Its key value propositions are the ability to make sensors that span large areas much more cheaply than incumbent approaches, and the thin-film flexible form factor. Detection of light over a large area, rather than at a single small detector, is highly desirable for acquiring biometric data and, if flexible, for imaging through the skin. The challenge is that light is easily focused and that conventional image sensors are both cheap and well established.
Printed piezoresistive force sensors are a longstanding application, widely used today in car occupancy sensors, musical instruments, industrial equipment, and some medical devices. While these markets are somewhat commoditized, the sector is innovating to access new, differentiated, higher value applications.
One example is 3D touch panels that can measure applied force as a function position, thus enabling the recognition of complex HMI gestures than the incumbent capacitive touch panels. Suppliers are continuing to target phones, computer gaming and automotive interiors.
The challenge for differentiating piezoresistive sensors is that many applications do not require sophisticated functionality such as 3D touch or proximity sensing. The relatively low technology complexity can also mean that barriers to entry and the value capture are low. This is convincing some to go higher up in the value chain, offering more integrated solutions that incorporate haptics, for example.
Piezoelectric sensors generate a voltage in response to an applied force, rather than changing their resistance. While, like piezoresistive sensors, they can be used for force sensing, they are more expensive to manufacture and less straightforward to integrate. As such, manufacturers are primarily targeting applications that utilize their unique capabilities, specifically their sensitivity to high frequency vibrations.
The commercial difficulty for printed piezoelectric sensors is that their capabilities lie midway between two simple established technologies: Affordable piezoresistive pressure sensors, and sensitive, rigid ceramic piezoelectric sensors. However, there are some relatively niche application areas to which thin film piezoelectric sensors are well suited, such as structural health and industrial condition monitoring.
Capacitive touch sensors are well-established and widely used for transparent touch sensors such as smartphones and tablets. However, there is still extensive scope for innovation within capacitive touch in terms of the transparent conductive materials used, the ability to sense touch over large area displays, and alternative applications for capacitive sensing such as leak detection and interactive surfaces.
Indium tin oxide (ITO) is the dominant transparent conductive film, but has multiple shortcomings including limited flexibility, a limited conductivity vs transparency ratio, and exposure to the indium price and supply chain. Emerging solution processable alternatives include silver nanowires, carbon nanotubes and printed metal mesh. Despite challenges matching ITO's lack of haze and inertia of an established but technically inferior approach, alternative materials are finally finding market in flexible or 3D shaped objects, in large-area multi-touch capacitive touch screens, and even nowadays sometimes in lower cost touch screens. Another significant innovation within the capacitive touch sensor market is current-mode sensor readout, which both reduces the conductivity requirements of the transparent conductive film and dramatically increased sensitivity.
Various partially or fully printed stretchable strain sensors have been developed and commercialized over the years. Basic technology demonstration has proved relatively easy, but not every supplier has succeeded in transitioning to large-volume capability with at lower costs.
The main challenge has been that flexible strain sensors are generally not replacing an existing product, meaning that completely new markets need to be developed. To address this challenge and to capture more value, many suppliers offer vertically integrated 'solutions'. One example is 'smart gloves' that track the movement of the hands and fingers in real time with more accuracy than cameras - they can even be combined with haptic feedback for training purposes. After years of development opportunities in industrial displacement sensing, in wearable electronics, and in continuous patient monitoring are now emerging.
Printing can also be used to create temperature sensors, using either a composite ink with silicon nanoparticles or carbon nanotubes. Given that temperature measurement requires good thermal contact, sensors based on conformal substrates might seem to offer a clear value proposition.
Their main challenge is the low cost, light weight, and ubiquity of very mature solutions such as thermistors and resistive temperature detectors. As such, printed temperature sensors have the clearest value proposition applications that require spatial resolution using conformal array, such as monitoring wounds or skin complaints. Monitoring batteries in electric vehicles is another highly promising application that is receiving increased interest, with the light weight and ease of integration with pouch cells the main attractions.
Gas and humidity sensors can also be printed, although at present most are made from ceramics rather than organic material. Some of these ceramics are printed as a 'thick film' with very high curing temperatures, rendering them incompatible with flexible substrates. Emerging approaches are based around functionalized carbon nanotubes and other organic semiconductors. Multiple sensors with slightly different properties can be combined to form an 'electronic nose', with their composite output exhibiting a different 'fingerprint' for each analyte.
Gas sensors are already used in many industrial contexts and are likely to be increasingly adopted as concern about air pollution grows. Unlike some sectors, there is substantial scope for differentiation by sensitivity and analyte, leading to a fragmented market. Another promising long-term application in which printed gas sensors offer unique capability is directly printing onto food packaging to measure food degradation. However, this will likely require the development of flexible hybrid electronics to make such capability cost-effective via continuous manufacturing, along with the development of enabling technologies such as flexible ICs.
The largest category of printed sensors by revenue and volume is printed biosensors, dominated by glucose test strips. The annual demand is in the billions. However, use is gradually declining due to the growing adoption of patient-friendly continuous glucose monitoring, a trend that will continue to grow. In parallel, there have been significant price pressures and commoditization as regulators have sought to supress the test prices and in doing so eroded the margins. Despite all this, this remains the largest volume and revenue business in the printed and flexible sensor landscape. Importantly, printed biosensors are not constrained to glucose sensing and an array of other sensors are emerging.
Today, most medial electrodes comprise a metal snap fastening with an electrolytic gel, but these can only be used for short periods. For continuous monitoring, printed electrodes are gradually being adopted into skin patches, since they last longer, can be integrated into a product together with conductive interconnects (also printed) and are flexible. Wearable electrodes are also well suited to fitness context and have been integrated into e-textiles to monitor heart rate in a comfortable way. Both medical and fitness applications of printed wearable electrodes are likely to increase as the software for continuous monitoring develops thus creating greater demand, although the durability in e-textiles remains a concern for consumers.
IDTechEx has been researching the emerging printed electronics market for well over a decade, launching our first printed and flexible sensor report back in 2012. Since then, we have stayed close to the technical and market developments, interviewing key players worldwide, attending numerous conferences, delivering multiple consulting projects, and running classes and workshops on the topic. The depth and breadth of our insight is truly unrivalled, demonstrated by the detailed profiles of over 50 companies included within this report.
This report discusses each of these printed sensor categories in considerable detail, evaluating the different technologies and the challenges to adoption. We also develop 10-year market forecasts for each technology and application sector, delineated by both revenue and printed sensor area.
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