Where is the Growth for Silver Inks?
Despite high silver prices (indeed, partially because of them), NanoMarkets expects that revenues from silver inks and pastes will remain substantial in a number of applications.
Traditional thick-film electronics: Thick-film electronics, which comprises a vast number of printed circuit board applications as well as printed membrane switches and the like, has traditionally been the largest user of conventional silver inks and pastes (mostly pastes), and we expect it—absent a serious worldwide financial crisis—to remain a relatively stable high-volume market with even a few genuine opportunities appearing from time to time:
• We think that with so many mature processes in place and so much accumulated manufacturing experience in the thick-film sector, it is going to be very hard for firms to get rid of silver pastes and inks in a wholesale manner, unless very close substitutes can be found. As to replacing printed silver with some entirely different process, this would also be hard to achieve. “Printed silver” provides not only higher resolution and fewer process steps than subtractive processes such as etched copper, but also the option of applying conductive traces at different times.
• Substitution of traditional thick film pastes with silver inks, including potentially nanosilver inks, in this segment will be driven by the trend toward miniaturization of consumer electronics and the need for finer lines and higher resolution of conductive traces. Here, again, is an opportunity of sorts for the silver inks and pastes business.
• Even without high volume growth—and with some negative growth in certain sub-sectors like membrane switches—increases in silver prices will drive substantial revenue growth. An open question for suppliers of inks and pastes is how they are going to capture some of the new value encapsulated in silver metal.
Suppliers of silver inks and pastes (except maybe, boutique suppliers of nanosilver products) cannot afford to ignore the thick-film sector, simply because it is so large; traditional thick-film paste sales will still make up nearly half of the total silver inks and pastes market for the foreseeable and thus present significant opportunities. Still, we think that silver paste suppliers should not expect too much from this sector. It is, after all, highly mature. In this market, customers for inks and pastes will continue to balance the risks of switching to a new material against attempting to ride out the high silver commodity prices while sticking with conventional silver pastes. For materials suppliers of all kinds in this sector, the business development struggle for the next few years is going to center around these switching economics issues and arguments that either turn customers to a new material or calm their concerns about the high price of silver.