Earlier this month, I attended IDTechEx's Printed Electronics USA conference and trade show in San Jose, California. Attendance was up 25% over last year. Again, like last year, only a couple fabricators were in attendance and only a few PCB suppliers. Taiyo America and Rogers were the only ones exhibiting. Approximately 900 product designers and engineers attended the show and conference this year.
Steve Gold and I went to San Jose to check out the latest developments. It was Steve's first visit and his first introduction to the "bigger picture" of printed electronics (PE). I believe it's safe to say, Steve was impressed by the implications. PE will likely overtake the PCB industry, as we know it, within 10 years and, possibly, within five. It's moving that fast. It's growing exponentially.
It's not what they're producing right now that is of greatest interest or concern, depending on your perspective, it's the solutions they're working on to meet the demands of their customers and the implications to the PCB industry once those technologies hit the market.
On May 8, 2009, I wrote Printed Electronics: This One WILL Come Back to Bite Us. You can go take a look at what I was thinking, not that long ago. What's changed for me, since then, is the pace.
What was really shocking at the show was specifically the presentation by a research scientist from Procter and Gamble (P&G), an 80 billion dollar consumer products company. Basically, he was begging the audience of between 800 and 900 engineers to develop PE systems which could help them improve their products (more than 800 different ones) or differentiate their products on the store shelves. He invited any and all to see him after the presentation to discuss their ideas. It's the development of the inks and substrates required to meet the very demanding applications for these types of products which caught my attention. It's a done deal, P&G and hundreds of other multi-billion dollar companies have seen the PE light. They're making commitments and investing resources.
Some of those demanding requirements P&G stated are: Robust--can handle very rough treatment in the distribution channel; have to be "green"--not just legally green, but in the mind of the consumer, as well, and they have to be a good value--low cost.
Companies will spend billions of dollars for these solutions. As a result, they WILL get developed. When these flexible, robust, green and very low cost circuits hit the market, it's going to spell trouble for the PCB industry. I believe it's going to hit us like the move to China did when we saw half of the industry disappear almost overnight, then a steady decline. The decline will be global, and likely will hit lower-tech PCBs first. Keep reading.
In talking with Dave Rund, President of Taiyo America, he said that after several years of urging their Japanese parent company to dedicate resources into PE and solar, Japan has seen the light and has dedicated significant resources toward the development of conductive inks for these markets. They're now moving full speed ahead. That's why they were there, exhibiting. A constant stream of people could be seen at their booth. There seemed to be much interest in their conductive inks.
Steve Gold ran into Sven Lamprecht of Atotech on the floor. He and Dave Baron had come from Europe for the show. And, as I mentioned, Rogers was there showing off their advances in flexible substrates for PE applications. Also in the crowd, walking the floor, were Jim Alves and Todd Palmer of Tapco, Mike Dubois of Caledon Controls and Joe Fjelstad of Verdant Electronics.
One PCB notable was a presentation by Bob Tarzwell, DMR Ltd. Tarzwell has been building PCBs for over 40 years and outlined his method for building a PCB using PE technologies readily available, today. His "Silver Bullitt" process uses about 1/10 the traditional PCB factory equipment set and is completely green, according to Tarzwell. Check out his presentation after the New Year, right here on I-Connect007.
20,000 PCB Shops by 2020
My prediction is that by 2020, in ten years, at least 10,000 shops will be making PCBs around the world and maybe as many as 20,000. Most of these PCB "factories" will be captive shops, building prototypes and small production runs for engineering teams and low-volume products. Some will be service bureaus selling to smaller OEMs and some will be "lights-out," captive facilities building and assembling millions of PCBs for consumer products 24/7, 365. OEMs will, again, start manufacturing where it makes the most sense.