Printed and Flexible Sensors 2020-2030: Technologies, Players, Forecasts

Dr Matthew Dyson, Technology Analyst at IDTechEx, has recently published the below article on the topic of printed and flexible sensors. This article follows the release of the newly updated IDTechEx report, «Printed and Flexible Sensors 2020-2030: Technologies, Players, Forecasts«.

Asked to picture a printed sensor, you might well imagine a paper test strip for measuring blood glucose concentration. After all, such test strips comprise the majority of the printed sensor market, with billions used each year by diabetics around the world. However, this ubiquitous application masks a highly complex, fragmented and in some cases rapidly growing market that spans applications ranging from image sensing to wearable electrodes.

The new IDTechEx report, «Printed and Flexible Sensors 2020-2030: Technologies, Players, Forecasts«, covers the entire printed and flexible sensor landscape. Collectively, printed sensors constitute the largest printed electronics market, which IDTechEx forecasts to reach $4.5 billion by 2030 despite the sustained displacement of printed glucose test strips by continuous glucose monitoring (CGM). Market growth is therefore enabled by the rise of many new applications and technologies. Specifically, the IDTechEx report covers:

  • Large area image sensors
  • Hybrid QD/Organic-on-CMOS image sensors
  • Hybrid sensors for SWIR imaging
  • Piezoresistive sensors
  • Piezoelectric sensors
  • Temperature sensors
  • Capacitive strain sensors
  • ITO alternatives for capacitive touch sensors
  • Gas and humidity sensors
  • Biosensors
  • Printed electrodes for skin patches and e-textiles

Within this diverse application space, some sensors comprise a very simple structure with only a few layers, whilst others are much more complex and require the deposition of multiple layers and sophisticated, innovative materials. Some sensors are sheet-to-sheet screen printed, whereas others are made using continuous roll-to-roll printing. The majority are on low-cost flexible large-area substrates, but some, however, are to be found atop CMOS devices or various textile substrates.

Each sensor category seeks to offer a distinct value proposition over the incumbent technology, with a specific motivation for using printing as a manufacturing methodology. Furthermore, each has its different technological and commercial challenges on route to widespread adoption. The new IDTechEx report, «Printed and Flexible Sensors 2020-2030: Technologies, Players, Forecasts«, comprehensively evaluates the technology underpinning each printed sensor category, along with the players, market positioning and commercial prospects. We also develop highly granulated 10-year market forecasts, delineated by technology and application. Here, the underpinning technology, market landscape and commercial prospects of each sensor are briefly reviewed, demonstrating the diversity of this rapidly growing sector.

Printed and flexible sensors comprise a wide range of technologies and applications, including organic and hybrid photodetectors, piezoresistive and piezoelectric pressure sensors, stretchable strain sensors, temperature sensors, printed electrodes for skin patches, biosensors, gas sensors, humidity sensors, and ITO alternatives for capacitive touch sensors. For more details please see the new IDTechEx report «Printed and Flexible Sensors 2020-2030: Technologies, Players, Forecasts«.

Hybrid Image Sensors

Hybrid image sensors are an especially promising category. They comprise of a thin film (a few 100 nm) of either an organic semiconductor or quantum dots printed over a silicon readout circuit. They offer three distinct value propositions over the incumbent silicon CMOS detectors: a tuneable bandgap to enable NIR and SWIR imaging at much longer wavelengths, voltage-dependent sensitivity that enables spatially-variable neutral density filter, and more rapid charge collection that facilitates a global rather than rolling shutter.

Critically, hybrid image sensors can be manufactured using repurposed CMOS lines, substantially reducing capital requirements, and facilitating more rapid adoption. The OPD-on-CMOS technology is set to be launched imminently in broadcast cameras, while the QD-on-CMOS technology is already commercially available and will transition to higher-power out-door applications as the thermal and light flux stability of the material system evolves over time. Therefore, the technology can migrate from indoor low-light inspection to outdoor applications such as SWIR imaging for autonomous vehicles.

This disruptive hybrid approach meets genuine market needs, demonstrating that integrating printable, functional materials with standard technology and manufacturing methods can enable substantial performance improvements while lowering adoption barriers. To learn more about the current and future status of all technology options and the business landscape, along with commercial adoption roadmaps, in this exciting and rapidly developing sector please consult our new report, «Printed and Flexible Sensors 2020-2030: Technologies, Players, Forecasts«.

Large Area Image Sensors

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 and going beyond what other large-area image sensors technologies can offer. The technology has two related value propositions: it is flexible and lightweight, unlike large area a-Si image detectors, and in principle, it can be printed rapidly at low cost using continuous manufacturing methods.

However, today there are very few manufacturers, and these are mainly targeting biometric sensing as a relatively high-value application, thus enabling them to avoid competing with CMOS. In one proposed application, large area under-the-screen image sensors enable 4 fingerprints to be imaged simultaneously, in contrast to the incumbent technology that either images a single finger or requires a complex optical system to image a large area.

While technically impressive, large-area image sensing appears to be largely driven by pushing the technology rather than maker need. It is questionable whether this capability represents a sufficient advance over incumbent methods to overcome the entry barrier to adoption, especially as fingerprint recognition must compete with incumbent methods.

The new IDTechEx report, «Printed and Flexible Sensors 2020-2030: Technologies, Players, Forecasts«, outlines current and future status of the technology, the application roadmap, and the associated market for each application.

Piezoresistive Sensors

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. Other innovations include hybrid capacitive/piezoresistive sensor arrays that detect proximity but require a firm push to actuate, piezoresistive handles as a safety device for power tools, and manufacturing via roll-to-roll processing.

The challenge for differentiating piezoresistive sensors is that many applications do not require sophisticated functionality such as 3D touch or proximity sensing. Furthermore, the revenue streams can widely fluctuate with the various product cycles, requiring very active development of the application pipeline. 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 fully integrated solutions.

A detailed discussion of the current and future status of the technology, the business landscape, and granular application-segmented applications is given in the new IDTechEx report, «Printed and Flexible Sensors 2020-2030: Technologies, Players, Forecasts«.

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