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Market Insight

Key Dynamics in the Display Value Chain

July 31, 2019

Ricky Park Ricky Park Director, Display Outlook

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The suppliers in Japan may have started flat panel display market with technology development allowing mass production capability but it was really during early 2000 that the industry started showing significant growth with the large investments coming from Korea-based suppliers. Area-based display market grew 257% for 10 years until 2010 and the market has turned to different level through the aggressive investments from China-based suppliers. Chinese panel makers have built G10.5 fabs and began mass producing panels that created different level of competition with Korean panel makers who have been trying to differentiate with more focus on OLED.

As the market endures longer panel over-supply situation, the decline in panel price is getting more significant that are eventually impacting negatively suppliers’ profitability. Decreasing growth in demand and lowered profitability created environment towards panel makers to make long-term changes and the change is more evident with Korean panel suppliers attempting to lower dependency towards LCD but focus more on advancing OLED technology. This paradigm shift in the market also brings significant changes for panel component and material industry.

Demand for Smartphone display have been shifting from conventional TFT LCD to rigid OLED and further towards flexible OLED. Samsung Electronics and Huawei are preparing to launch foldable Smartphone to the market and these devices utilized much more advanced flexible OLED. Foldable smartphone is promising that they have the benefit of a changeful form factor, and they have already built a segment in the industry under foldable. Because of the structural characteristics where the screen must endure multiple folding and spreading, the existing glass cover was switched to a plastic cover, and in other words, the application of a plastic cover has heralded the opening of the foldable market.

Currently, colorless polyimide (CPI) is the only plastic cover that is durable and mass produced. Previously, materials such as PMMA (Poly methyl methacrylate) or PC (Poly carbonate) had been applied on feature phones, but they were not meant to be folded, just merely for flat displays. Due to the inherent traits of plastic, it is difficult to restore the material back to its original state when folded multiple times, and the folded areas become opaquely white when a plastic is crystalized by the stress of folding, which is why it is difficult to apply it as a foldable display.

Of course, CPI film covers still have to be further developed in terms of durability. In order to be applied as a cover, a certain level of hardness must be achieved, and since the user has to touch the screen continuously, the pressure must not affect the panel components. For this, specific processes have been added, such as a surface treatment like hard coating, as well as an additional functional layer to absorb external shocks. The defect that was reported about the Galaxy Fold recently, is also attributed to the contamination of the protective film and hinge area, put in place to enhance the durability of the plastic cover.

Besides, foldable and flexible OLED displays project onto 0.5-millimeter (mm) thick carrier glass. The substrate is 3-micrometers thin polyimide. The laser lift-off (LLO) process is applied to remove carrier glass; however, this process is causing production yield reductions. While the LLO method is necessary for removing flexible LCDs from thin-film-transistor (TFT) and color filter (CF) carrier glass, utilizing the same method for foldable and flexible LCDs can be challenging. Removing carrier glass is one of the key technologies for producing foldable and flexible displays.

LPKF Laser & Electronics AG has developed LLO alternative technology called Laser-Induced Deep Etching (LIDE). The LIDE process begins by processing the substrate glass with laser irradiation. The etch stop layer is applied to the substrate glass, followed by the display layer. Both layers are then encapsulated by a thin film. The final step involves chemically etching one side of the glass with laser irradiation to achieve hinge functionality. The 0.5 mm thick glass substrate becomes a foldable substrate with hinge functionality, rendering the intensive LLO process unnecessary.

Regarding for the production technology for large area OLED, as the technology has improved over time, Inkjet printing(IJP) OLED technology will be adopted in display production starting in 2019, and total substrate input will reach 1,301,000 per year by 2024 with area at around 7,334 K m² in the most optimistic forecast, according to the recently released IHS Markit Inkjet Printing for AMOLED: Technology and Market Report 2019.

Once JOLED opens the market for IJP OLED IT panels with its mass production line in 2019, Chinese panel makers will start investing in IJP mass production lines in 2020 and 2021, and other panel makers will speed up adoption of the technology in display production in 2021 and beyond.

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At IHS Markit, we’ve provided intelligence and guidance to chemical companies to quantify use cases for chemicals in the display value chain. As fabrication processes, political trends and materials mold how display companies approach their product lines, companies need to know the right insertion point for the right conversation at the right time.

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