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Nanoelectronics February 2015 Viewpoints

Technology Analyst: Alastair Cunningham

Carbon-Nanotube Transparent-Conductive Films

Why is this topic significant?

Touch-screen technology is in the midst of a revolution. Recent commercial and manufacturing developments have the potential to influence how the future of this market will develop.

Description

In December 2014, Canatu announced its partnership with iTouchworks Optoelectronics Co., a Chinese manufacturing firm that specializes in cost-effective, high-performance touch-screen technology and that has the capacity to produce 1.5 million touch modules per month. Canatu selected iTouchworks as an official partner as a result of its proven ability to laser pattern Canatu's "Carbon NanoBud" transparent-conductive films and its track record in manufacturing "high-performance projected capacitive touch sensors used in flat or flexible touch screens." iTouchworks will now offer Carbon NanoBud films as part of its product portfolio in its dealings with OEMs and electronics-devices manufacturers.

Canatu also announced in December 2014 the successful installation of its new roll-to-roll manufacturing line. This line will enable the manufacture of continuous rolls of Carbon NanoBud films that are up to 600 mm wide and with thicknesses as low as 25 µm. The company plans to increase production capacity throughout 2015, depending on demand.

Implications

The recent developments at Canatu demonstrate that the company is aiming to increase its market penetration in Asia—one of the principal geographic areas concerned in the manufacture of touch-screen devices. The partnership with iTouchworks Optoelectronics will provide Asian original equipment manufacturers in the portable-electronics industry with easier access to the volumes of material that are necessary to support mass manufacturing of touch-screen sensors, modules, and—ultimately—devices. The expansion of Canatu's production capacity—with the option for further growth—represents a reaction to an increasing demand for this type of material and shows the company's desire to further its market share. The development also demonstrates Canatu's development within the industry and shows that it is well placed to exploit the expanding market for flexible transparent-conductive films for next-generation electronic devices.

More generally, beyond the specific implications for Canatu, these developments could also contribute to increasing likelihood of full commercialization of flexible electronics products. The materials that will enable flexible or rollable electronics—such as Carbon NanoBud—will most likely first see use in nonflexible devices.

Impacts/Disruptions

At present, the market for transparent-conductive films is surrounded by a high degree of uncertainty. ITO—currently the material of choice for the majority of transparent-conductive applications—will not continue to dominate the market as a result of its volatile price and unsuitability for flexible applications, and alternatives such as Carbon NanoBud films will come to the fore in the next few years. However Canatu's products are far from the only ones vying for the market space currently occupied by ITO. Films comprising graphene, metallic nanoparticles, metallic nanowires, and conductive polymers all display impressive properties and are at a stage of the commercialization process similar to that of Carbon NanoBud films. Ultimately, material performance and overall cost efficiency will determine which, if any, of the above technologies goes on to dominate the market.

Scale of Impact

  • Low
  • Medium
  • High
The scale of impact for this topic is: High

Time of Impact

  • Now
  • 5 Years
  • 10 Years
  • 15 Years
The time of impact for this topic is: Now

Opportunitites in the following industry areas:

Display, consumer electronics, organic electronics, automotive

Relevant to the following Explorer Technology Areas:

Thin Film Electronics Seals Licensing Partnerships

Why is this topic significant?

The Internet of Things is having an increasingly significant impact on everyday life. The commercialization of smart labels and printed-electronics devices will aid in bringing this revolution to low-cost and disposable consumer goods.

Description

The Norwegian firm Thin Film Electronics (TFE) recently announced a series of partnership agreements that could result in the further commercialization of printed-electronics technology. TFE focuses on printed-electronic systems and, exploiting its ferroelectric polymer technology, produces the only commercially available printed rewritable-memory products. The firm also adds logic, sensing, display, and wireless-communication functionality to its products to create a wide range of smart labels and other printed-electronics products.

In December 2014, TFE signed a distribution agreement with CymMetrik—the "largest professional packaging and label converter" in China, with an annual label-shipment volume that exceeds 12 billion units. The agreement will enable CymMetrik to promote sales of TFE's products throughout China, Taiwain, Hong Kong, and Macau and in the countries that make up the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

TFE also entered into a licensing agreement with an unnamed "global leader in functional printing" in December 2014. The Fortune 250 company will scale up the manufacture of Thinfilm Memory labels and develop its own products that incorporate the technology. In return, TFE will receive a percentage of the overall revenue of any eventual sales.

Implications

TFE—through a series of licensing agreements and partnerships—is clearly making a concerted effort to develop its share of a largely untapped market that holds massive potential. The deal with CymMetrik—a market leader with an "extensive client list" in Asia—will increase the exposure of TFE's products in this continent and is likely to lead to increased market penetration. Likewise, the licensing contract with the Fortune 250 company is likely to result in the more widespread commercialization of Thinfilm Memory labels and could generate significant revenue for TFE.

More broadly, the effect of these deals—beyond any specific implications for TFE—could be to stimulate the more extensive adoption of smart labels and other printed-electronics systems. Printed electronics has the potential to bring functionality—such as connectivity or sensing capabilities—to high-volume, low-cost applications and products.

Impacts/Disruptions

Bringing connectivity or enhanced functionality to consumer products is a key driving force behind the development of smart labels and many other printed-electronics devices—the market for which is likely to undergo large growth in the next few years. Relatively cheap manufacturing methods—such as roll-to-roll printing—enable developers to address a large range of market segments for which traditional silicon-based electronics would prove prohibitively expensive. Potential applications for printed electronics include food packaging that indicates a product is no longer fit for consumption, single-use medical products, and other low-cost wireless sensors integrated into labeling or directly into products themselves.

Scale of Impact

  • Low
  • Medium
  • High
The scale of impact for this topic is: High

Time of Impact

  • Now
  • 5 Years
  • 10 Years
  • 15 Years
The time of impact for this topic is: Now

Opportunitites in the following industry areas:

Food and beverage, consumer electronics, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics

Relevant to the following Explorer Technology Areas: