Japan takes the lead in OLED displays

According to a recent report by iSuppli Corporation, Japanese manufacturers have taken the early lead in the fast-growing equipment market for organic light-emitting diode (OLED) displays, looking to recover their reputation in the global display market now dominated by Korean and Taiwanese suppliers.

EL SEGUNDO, CA - According to a recent report by iSuppli Corporation, Japanese manufacturers have taken the early lead in the fast-growing equipment market for organic light-emitting diode (OLED) displays, looking to recover their reputation in the global display market now dominated by Korean and Taiwanese suppliers.

The report finds that Japanese suppliers have leveraged their strengths in semiconductor and thin-film-transistor liquid-crystal display (TFT-LCD) manufacturing equipment to gain the early lead in the OLED equipment market. Japanese makers Tokki Corp. and Ulvac top the list of suppliers selling production-scale OLED deposition equipment, according to the report.

“In a bid to retain their advantage in this area, the Japanese are keeping many of their OLED secrets close to the vest,” the report noted. “Having lost much of their manufacturing advantage in TFT-LCDs to Korean and Taiwanese companies over the last decade, Japanese companies have become more cautious.” Although this approach is helping Japan maintain its market lead in the short-term, according to iSuppli, it is also slowing the development and standardization of OLED equipment.

In fact, while the outlook for OLED displays 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 market is a lack of standardization. Every piece of OELD manufacturing gear is custom-made even if the manufacturer offers a set menu of features and options. This is due to the fact that OLED processes vary greatly and are not optimized; therefore, panel makers need special adjustments as well as built-in flexibility for the inevitable changes that are still occurring in the market. Another challenge is the scarcity of inkjet printing tools for manufacturing. Inkjet printing is an attractive option for OLED because it promises lower manufacturing costs but top panel makers believe 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 color filters and other components for TFT-LCDs, iSuppli noted. Korean manufacturers, which overtook the leading position in the TFT-LCD industry last year, are hoping to extend their dominance in the OLED sector. Samsung SDI Co., an affiliate of Samsung Electronics, was the world’s largest OLED display supplier last year, accounting for a 44% share in terms of revenue. Samsung SDI plans to increase its OLED output this year, including doubling the supplies for mobile-phones, expecting a 17% growth in sales.

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