Japanese take the lead in OLED manufacturing equipment

Paul Boughton

Japanese suppliers have taken a dominant position in the fast-growing market for equipment used for manufacturing organic light-emitting diode (OLED) displays, according to a new study from iSuppli Corp.

The Japanese suppliers have leveraged their strengths in semiconductor and TFT-LCD manufacturing gear to gain the early lead in the OLED equipment market, according to data from the OLED Equipment Special Report from iSuppli's emerging displays service.
While the OLED market remains in a nascent stage, the emerging flat-panel display technology promises explosive growth in the coming years. OLED unit sales expected to expand by a factor of 11 during the next six years, as their use expand in mobile phones, media players and other products, iSuppli predicts.
Although the outlook for OLEDs is robust, near-term sales growth is being inhibited by inadequacies in production equipment. Both technical and business issues are playing a role in slowing OLED equipment development.
A major challenge in the OLED equipment realm is a lack of standardisation. Every piece of OELD manufacturing gear is effectively custom-made-even if the manufacturer offers a set menu of features and options. This is because OLED processes vary wildly and are not optimised; panel makers need special adjustments as well as built-in flexibility for the inevitable changes that are still occurring.
Another challenge is the present scarcity of inkjet printing tools for manufacturing. Inkjet printing is an attractive option for OLED because it promises lower manufacturing costs. However, top panel makers believe that inkjet remains a manufacturing technology of the future-not the present.
Nonetheless, developers of inkjet printing and suppliers of printers are ramping up activity in Japan and Korea because a near-term opportunity is arising in the printing of colour filters and other components for TFT-LCDs.
Japanese companies are strongly represented in the ranks of top OLED equipment suppliers. Two Japanese companies lead in supplying mass-production-scale OLED deposition equipment: Tokki Corp and Ulvac Inc. Companies including DaiNippon Screen and Hitachi are offering R&D or ilot-scale equipment. In a bid to retain their advantage in this area, the Japanese are guarding many of their OLED secrets. Having lost much of their manufacturing advantage in TFT-LCDs to Korean and Taiwanese companies over the past decade, Japanese companies have become more cautious. While this may help maintain Japan's lead in the short term, the lack of communications between Japan's equipment and panel makers and the rest of the industry is slowing the development and standardisation, says iSuppli.

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