The diffusion of roll-to-roll technologies is expected to have a marked effect in lowering the unit prices of flexible devices. Consequently, while consumption in terms of volume is forecast to rise very rapidly, revenues will increase somewhat more moderately. As a result, the total market for roll-to-roll flexible devices is forecast to grow at a CAGR of 16.1 percent from 2012 to 2017, reaching global revenues of nearly $22.7 billion by 2017.
The global market for flexible devices manufactured by roll-to-roll technologies increased from $8.5 billion in 2010 to nearly $10 billion in 2011, and was valued at nearly $10.8 billion in 2012, growing at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 12.3 percent during the two-year period.
Circuit devices currently account for a nearly 96.9 percent share of all revenues in 2012. Sales within this segment are primarily associated with flexible printed circuits.
Displays and other optoelectronic devices account for a 2.5 percent share of the roll-to-roll flexible devices market, with total 2012 revenues of $264 million, while solar cells, sensors, and other emerging applications currently represent a combined share of only 0.7 percent of the total.
There are several reasons why flexible devices are gaining increasing importance. First, flexible devices are being created with the same functionalities as traditional (rigid) integrated circuits, yet are produced with low-cost materials and processes with the intent to make them commercially available at lower unit prices than their rigid counterparts.
Printed circuit boards include rigid and flexible circuits. In recent years, flexible circuits have gained increased market share driven by their growing use in popular consumer electronics such as tablet PCs, notebooks, cell phones, and other wireless devices. Flexible circuits are also gaining acceptance for the fabrication of RFIDs and smart cards.
Flexible circuits offer several advantages compared to rigid circuits, including reduced package dimensions, reduced weight, and optimization of component real estate. Flexible circuits currently represent approximately one-fifth of the entire PCB market, but are forecast to continue growing at a faster pace than the overall PCB market during the next five years, with a CAGR of 8.4 percent.
As the flexible printed circuit (FPC) market continues to expand, driven by mass-market applications, the need will grow for high-volume, automated processes that maintain consistent quality (i.e., roll-to-roll technologies) to satisfy the increasing demand for these products.