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1/22/2015 | 4 MINUTE READ

Plastics Plug In To Charged-Up Electronics Sector

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Cars with cameras, watches with phones, and sensors on everything—our ubiquitously wired lives mean opportunities for plastics in electronics, especially as gadgets go flexible.

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That much was abundantly clear in Heinz Rasinger’s presentation at injection molding machine and automation supplier Engel’s recent “teletronics” (a mash up of telecom and electronics) technology symposium at its Technical Center in Corona, Calif.


Rasinger, VP of Engel’s teletronics business unit, examined broader market numbers through a regional lens and then shifted focus to how new technologies could influence future opportunities for plastics.


Where Electronics, Automotive and Medical Meet
Electronics as a plastics market were once largely relegated to expected consumer categories like TVs or desktop computers, but today they have significant penetration in other key segments for Engel, including automotive, as cars add displays, sensors and cameras, as well as medical, where the “wearables” segment is set to explode.


Rasinger noted that globally the entire teletronics segment, which includes everything from flat-screen displays and mobile phones to automotive connectors and photovoltaics for Engel, has grown from a value of $836 million in 2009 to  $1.068 billion in 2013, before shrinking slightly to $1.055 billion last year.


Most of that growth is coming in the Emerging Asia markets of China, Vietnam, and India, while business has stagnated or even reversed in established markets like Japan. Emerging Asia jumped from $181 million to $286 million over the last five years, expanding at around 15%/yr. More locally and coming off the recession of 2009, North America jumped from $223 million in 2010 to $250 million in 2011, and has grown, if slowly, from there, reaching $254 million last year.


Displays, Displays Everywhere
Rasinger discussed the ubiquity of displays in our everyday lives, ranging from a couple square inches on a printer to massive 67-inch televisions, with Engel machines molding bezels and other key components for all regardless of size.


Apart from continued growth, other trends for the segment predicted by Rasinger include back injection of touch-sensitive foils and the emergence of flexible OLED (organic light-emitting diode) screens, replacing LCD displays, that are more rigid and require backlighting.


OLEDs Take On LCDs (and Backlights?)
Rasinger was reluctant to predict how OLED tech might change the market, but he was certain they would evolve the sector. “Nobody really knows with certainty the impact of OLEDs on injection molding but there is one thing for sure, the backlighting units, as they were before, will be a thing of the past,” Rasinger said.


Asked to expand on his statement after the presentation, Rasinger still hesitated to make a firm prediction, but reiterated that OLEDs will remain a closely watched development by Engel and others.


“It would be good if we could really put our hands on OLED’s impact, and say, ‘This is the way it’s going to be,’” Rasinger said, “but electronics is a very rapidly moving area—they invent new things on a constant basis—and with every new invention there are opportunities that can be created that haven’t been possible thus far.”


Mobiles On the Move
Some of the most striking numbers presented by Rasinger came in the mobile phone segment of his presentation, including the fact that mobile phones have a global market penetration of 97%—meaning that for every 100 people on earth, there are 97 mobile phones. In fact, several countries boast more phones than population to use them, including the U.S. (103), Brazil (137) and Russia (155).


In terms of penetration, the top countries for smart phones are almost entirely a mix of the Mid and Far East: U.A.E.,  South Korea, Saudi Arabia,  and Singapore, with Norway as the lone western representative.


In 2013, 1.8 billion mobile phones were sold, according to Rasinger’s data, with almost half of global mobile phone production for smart phones. The rise of smart phones has been a boon for Samsung, Rasinger pointed out, and a bust for former market leaders like Research In Motion (Blackberry) and Nokia, whose inability to adapt cost them market share and sovereignty.  


Computers Log Out
Desktop computer sales have shrunk by 130% from 2012 to 2014, while laptops have contracted (down 15%), but not nearly as much. “I think the growth in this segment has been eaten up by these new mobile devices,” Rasinger said. “You could see from the graphs that desktops are stagnant but they still keep their level, while laptops are slightly decreasing. The real winners are the tablets.”


From Smart Phones to Smart Cars
With automotive production forecast to grow 6%/yr through 2017, reaching 107 million vehicles globally at that time, the automotive electronics market is forecast to reach a value of $48 billion.


That includes traditional applications like connectors and switches, as well as new areas like driver assistance systems, sensors,  and cameras. In the future, the addition of photovoltaics for power and OLEDs for rear lighting could mean even more opportunities for plastics on the road.


“I think driver assistance systems are really going to take off,” Rasinger said after his presentation. “As usual, things like this start in the luxury cars then migrate their way down.”


What’s next?
The future for electronics? Wearables (and the printed and flexible electronics that make them possible). According to IDTechEx, wearable electronics are forecast to explode from a value of $14 billion in 2014 to more than $70 billion in 2024, while the total printed and flexible electronic market grows by 27%/year through 2020. 



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