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REPORT # 030 PUBLISHED June 01, 2007
Silver Powders and Inks for Printable Electronics: 2007-2014
  • Advanced Materials

    Silver inks occupy a unique position in the printable electronics (PE)industry at the present time. They are the only inks for PE that are both widely available from a fairly large number of suppliers and in use today to produce commercial quantities of electronic products. It is fairly easy to understand why silver has achieved this position. Silver is the ideal conductor, it is not only more conductive than any other metal, but unlike other metals the oxides that ultimately grow on its surface are also conductive. And, of course, since silver has been used as a conductor since the beginning of electronics, there is already a deep understanding of it use in electronics applications. Finally, silver inks have been around for decades for graphics applications. Admittedly, there is considerable difference between printing a greetings card and printing an RFID. Nonetheless, this history has given ink makers some useful experience in making inks from silver particles and flakes.

    There may be as many as 20 firms currently supplying silver inks for electronic applications. In the context of printed electronics, the most important of the current applications for these inks is in printing RFID antennas, since it provides one piece in the jigsaw puzzle for creating a complete printed RFID tag. However, there are other applications for these inks that are usually not considered part of PE, because printing is inherently a minor part of the manufacturing approach used to create complete functional electronic devices. These other applications include printing contacts in membrane switches and printing conductive tracks for circuit boards, intelligent packaging, greetings cards, games, etc. Printed silver may also be used in EMI shielding, an application that hovers between PE and the coatings business.

    Until very recently, silver inks for PE and related applications represented a tiny niche in the specialty chemicals market. However, as the PE business takes off, silver inks show promise to become a product that will sell in quantities measured in the metric tones. NanoMarkets' latest forecast show revenues from these inks for major PE applications exceeding $1.0 billion by 2014. That's a substantial business opportunity and it raises a number of questions.

    Will the older inks based on silver flakes be eclipsed in the marketplace by the latest nanoparticulate silver inks?

    Are there other new conducting materials out there that will hurt the chances for silver inks in the future PE business?

    For which printing processes does it make sense to develop silver inks?

      Where is the most profitable place for a materials firm to position itself; as a powder maker, or higher up the value chain as an ink maker?

    This report is intended to answers these questions and more. Its main objective is to analyze and quantify the opportunities for manufacturers of silver inks for use in printed electronics. The focus - especially in the forecasting section - is where silver inks are part of a printing process intended to create a complete functional device; rather than in which printed silver is used to create a few conductive tracts or simply provide a coating solution. This focus is because it is the true PE applications where the growth is likely to come from and the area that is generating most of the excitement.

    In this report we examine both business issues - notably the applications in which silver inks are likely to find the largest use -- and the technical evolution of silver inks in terms of conductivity, thermal requirements, environmental stability, formulation trends, etc. We also review the activities of major manufacturers of silver inks and related powders and analyze their strategies and how well they are working. Finally, we provided detailed revenue forecasts for silver inks broken out by application, type of ink and type of printing process.

    In this report, we cover a very broad range of electronic products that may be printed in large or modest volumes-or even in one offs-now or in the next decade. The areas of most interest are displays, RFID, backplanes, photovoltaics, computer memories, sensors, wearable products, greetings cards, smart packaging and novelty products. However, other products are mentioned along the way. Although materials issues will, of course, be of primary interest to materials suppliers, we will endeavor throughout the report to trace the implications of and opportunities from developments in silver inks for all players in the printable electronics sector. This includes printing equipment manufacturers, printers, integrators, and technology developers.

    This report is entirely international in scope. The forecasts are worldwide forecasts and we have not been geographically selective in the firms that we have covered in the report or interviewed in order to collect information. This is not to say that the printable electronics is particularly homogenous in terms of its geography. In Europe, Germany has been a focus of both the chemical industry and the printing/printing equipment industry that gives this country a special place in the discussion. The fact that two of the biggest applications for printable electronics relate to displays-backplanes and displays themselves-are something of an Asian specialty has given the Asian consumer electronics sector a special role in this market. Finally, the preeminence of U.S. financial sources-both venture capitalists and government sources-has also helped to shape the market.

    To determine where the opportunities for silver inks, we are basing this report on both primary and secondary research. The primary research comes from NanoMarkets' ongoing interview program in which we conduct regular interviews with key executives throughout the entire printed electronics value chainincluding manufacturers of equipment and materials and of devices and subsystems themselves. The secondary research drew on the World Wide Web, commercial databases, trade press articles, SEC filings and other corporate literature to fill out what is going on in this sector. NanoMarkets' researchers have also been frequent attendees and speakers at important trade shows and conferences.

    In this report we match the demand-side analysis with an assessment of what is going on in the technical evolution of silver inks, especially the accelerating trend to using silver nanoparticles. This enables us to develop a view on what the opportunities in this space are going to be and what the appropriate business models are.


    Executive Summary

      1.1 Emerging Opportunities in Silver Inks for Printed Electronics
      1.1.1 Diversity and Market Positioning for Silver Inks
      E.2 Firms and Strategies to Watch
      E.2.1 Silver Inks and the Traditional Electronic Materials Industry
      E.2.2 Novel Silver Inks, the Future of PE and VCs
      E.2.3 Notes on Asia
      E.2.4 Silver Inks and Integrators
      E.3 Summary of Forecasts


    Chapter One: Introduction

      1.1 Background to Report
      1.2 Objectives and Scope of this Report
      1.3 Methodology of this Report
      1.4 Plan of this Report


    Chapter Two: Evolution of Silver Ink Technology

      2.1 Introduction
      2.1.1 New Ink Formulations and Nano-Inks
      2.1.2 Processing Trends
      2.2 Strategies of the Silver Ink Suppliers
      2.2.1 Advanced Nano Products (ANP)
      2.2.2 Cabot
      2.2.3 Cima NanoTech
      2.2.4 Creative Materials
      2.2.5 DuPont
      2.2.6 Ferro
      2.2.7 Five Star Technologies
      2.2.8 Harima Chemical
      2.2.9 NanoDynamics
      2.2.10 NanoGram
      2.2.11 NanoMas
      2.2.12 National Starch (Acheson and Xink)
      2.2.13 NovaCentrix
      2.2.14 Parelec
      2.2.15 PChem Associates
      2.2.16 Sun Chemical
      2.3 Environmental Considerations


    Chapter Three: Applications and Forecasts

      3.1 Introduction: Forecasting Methodology
      3.2 Emerging Printable Electronics Applications
      3.2.1 Applications for Silver Inks in Printable Displays and Backplanes
      3.2.2 Applications for Silver Inks in RFID
      3.2.3 Applications for Silver Inks in Sensors
      3.2.4 Applications for Silver Inks in Lighting, PV Memory and Other Durable PE Applications
      3.2.5 Applications for Silver Inks in Novelties and Disposable Electronics
      3.2.6 Applications for Silver Inks in Other Printable Electronics Devices
      3.3 Traditional “Thick Film” Applications for Silver Conductive Inks
      3.4 Eight-Year Market Forecast of Silver Inks by Type of Printing Technology and Type of Ink
      3.5 Eight-Year Market Forecast of Silver Inks by Application and Type of Ink Used


    Acronyms and Abbreviations Used in this Report


    About the Author


    List of Exhibits

    Exhibit E-1: Product Strategies for Silver Conductive Ink Makers
    Exhibit E-2: Competitive Claims Made by Silver Ink Manufacturers
    Exhibit E-3: Market Forecast of Silver Inks for Printable Electronics ($ Millions)
    Exhibit 2-1: Conductivity of Metals
    Exhibit 2-2: Advantages Claimed for Nanoparticulate Silver Inks
    Exhibit 2-3: Suppliers of Silver Inks, Pastes and Powders to the Printed Electronics Industry
    Exhibit 3-1: Eight-Year Forecasts of Silver Ink Market: Displays ($ Millions)
    Exhibit 3-2: Eight-Year Forecasts of Silver Ink Market: Backplanes ($ Millions)
    Exhibit 3-3: Eight-Year Forecasts of Silver Ink Market: RFID Antennas ($ Millions)
    Exhibit 3-4: Eight-Year Forecasts of Silver Ink Market: RFID Tags ($ Millions)
    Exhibit 3-5: Eight-Year Forecasts of Silver Ink Market: Sensors ($ Millions)
    Exhibit 3-6: Eight-Year Forecasts of Silver Ink Market: Lighting ($ Millions)
    Exhibit 3-7: Eight-Year Forecasts of Silver Ink Market: Memory ($ Millions)
    Exhibit 3-8: Eight-Year Forecasts of Silver Ink Market: PV ($ Millions)
    Exhibit 3-9: Eight-Year Forecasts of Silver Ink Market: Novelties ($ Millions)
    Exhibit 3-10: Eight-Year Forecasts of Silver Ink Market: Smart Cards ($ Millions)
    Exhibit 3-11: Eight-Year Forecasts of Silver Ink Market: Other PE ($ Millions)
    Exhibit 3-12: Eight-Year Forecasts of Silver Ink Market: Thick Film Applications ($ Millions)
    Exhibit 3-13: Eight-Year Forecasts of Silver Ink Market by Type of Ink Used ($ Millions)
    Exhibit 3-14: Eight-Year Forecasts of Silver Ink Market by Printing Technology Used ($ Millions)
    Exhibit 3-15: Eight-Year Forecasts of Silver Ink Market by Application ($ Millions)


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