A new wave of electronics manufacturing is on the horizon, driven forward by volatile energy prices and increasing demand for sustainability. With the electronics industry accounting for 4% of global greenhouse gas emissions, it requires substantial innovation to reduce its environmental footprint. Fortunately, this area has a lot of movement, with several potentially revolutionary technologies entering the scene.
IDTechEx’s “Sustainable Electronics Manufacturing 2023-2033” report explores the key opportunities for sustainable innovation and the most promising new manufacturing approaches. The report concentrates on the fundamental building blocks of electronics – printed circuit boards (PCBs) and integrated circuits (ICs).
Incentives for Sustainable Electronics
Sustainability within the semiconductor and electronics industries is being driven forward by government mandates and green investment initiatives. Increasingly relevant to the survival of traditional manufacturers is the conscious choice of the public to only purchase from, and even only work for, companies that prioritize sustainable practices.
Environmentalism is often perceived as an obstacle-laden with legislative red tape and burdensome disclosures. However, companies that embrace environmentalism reap long-term rewards, and as such, the negative perception is replaced by one of opportunity. The implementation of low-emission manufacturing processes or the adoption of material recycling and recovery schemes can be the financially astute choice presenting an opportunity to reduce costs associated with energy consumption, waste treatment, and superfluous steps. Prioritizing environmentalism keeps the industry ahead of the curve as legislation becomes stricter while positioning individual companies to benefit from designated ESG investment.
As energy prices rise globally, low temperature and rapid processing methods become more attractive. Some of these methods employ additive approaches that substantially cut waste by printing material only where needed. This spares manufacturers the costs and emissions associated with excess materials and etching required in traditional subtractive manufacturing. For example, switching to additive methods of PCB manufacturing can lower water consumption by up to 95% – an outcome that could save the sector hundreds of millions of liters of water annually.
IDTechEx’s analysis expects additive manufacturing to be particularly significant to the scaling of flexible printed circuit boards. Flexible PCBs are an important part of the emerging electronics industry as they enable a wider variety of applications than conventional rigid electronics. Flexible PCBs inherently require an overhaul of traditional processing – for example, using plastic or paper rather than conventional FR substrates. Embracing a new technology enables scope for further changes, such as transitioning to new materials and additive methods. Low-temperature processing may also be imperative for PCBs made on plastics such as polyethylene terephthalate (PET), considering that these have relatively low heat tolerances.