LED market shines through high-tech slump

Although most high-tech sectors of the economy showed dramatic declines in 2001, at least one segment of the optoelectronics business managed to stay on an even keel: high-brightness light-emitting diodes (HB LEDs). This market was the subject of the annual Strategies In Light conference (sponsored by PennWell research subsidiary Strategies Unlimited), held in February in Burlingame, CA.

Apr 1st, 2002
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by Bob Steele

Although most high-tech sectors of the economy showed dramatic declines in 2001, at least one segment of the optoelectronics business managed to stay on an even keel: high-brightness light-emitting diodes (HB LEDs). This market was the subject of the annual Strategies In Light conference (sponsored by PennWell research subsidiary Strategies Unlimited), held in February in Burlingame, CA. The conference brought together the major suppliers in the HB LED industry, along with a variety of end users and application developers, to discuss the market, review the status of the major applications, and provide an update on new HB LED technologies and products.

Despite a flat market overall, some HB LED segments exhibited substantial growth in 2001, including automotive interior lighting and the use of white LEDs for backlighting LCD displays in cell phones and other electronic products. The installation of LED-based traffic signals grew by more than 100%. High-brightness LEDs used in illumination applications also managed to grow substantially, although starting from a small base. Other segments, such as large full-color video screens, were directly impacted by a slowing world economy and the accompanying downturn in capital spending. Still other segments, such as automotive exterior lighting (including markers and signals for trucks and buses, as well as center high-mounted stop lamps and tail lights for passenger cars) managed to hold steady (see figure).


Numerous applications contributed to a total high-brightness LED market of $1.2 billion in 2001.
Click here to enlarge image

Optimism about the future of the HB LED market was shared by numerous speakers at the Strategies In Light conference. Aldo Kamper, general manager of the Osram Opto Semiconductor (Regensburg, Germany) visible LED operation, pointed out that although the penetration of HB LEDs into automotive dashboard lighting in Europe has reached high levels, it is still relatively low in Japan and almost nonexistent in the U.S. Continued growth, therefore, can be expected. Ron Steen, Director of Lighting R&D at Schefenacker USA (Rochester Hills, MI), a first-tier supplier of lighting products to the automotive industry, including GM, noted the innovative styling possibilities that HB LEDs bring to exterior automotive lighting applications, and hinted at the many new developments to be expected in the coming years, including LED headlamps.

Mineo Sei, general manager of sales for Nichia Corporation's Optoelectronics Division (Tokushima, Japan), pointed out that in a year in which the world market for cell phones declined in unit sales, white LED backlights not only increased their penetration of the cell-phone market but increased unit shipments as well. This penetration is expected to continue, and to spread into other handheld electronic devices such as digital still cameras and PDAs.

Several speakers addressed the emerging market for HB LEDs in lighting applications. Although LEDs have captured only a minuscule share of the $12 billion worldwide market for lamps of all kinds (such as incandescent and fluorescent), several niche applications are being successfully developed. Lighting designers and architects have a new set of tools in the form of HB LEDs, and are beginning to use them in applications such as theme-park lighting, contour lighting, accent lighting, and retail display lighting.

Supply side updates
Speakers from the supply side of the HB LED industry used the occasion of Strategies In Light to provide updates on the status of their technologies or to introduce new products. Jason Posselt, product manager for LumiLed Lighting's (San Jose, CA) Luxeon product line (which uses large-area chips—approximately 1 x 1 mm—to achieve high luminous flux), announced an aggressive roadmap for the Luxeon white LED, with light output tripling compared to current-generation Luxeon products, and luminous efficacy reaching 60 lumens/W (four times greater than incandescent sources and nearly as high as compact fluorescents) within three years. Norbert Hiller, general manager of Cree Optoelectronics Division (Durham, NC), announced Cree's new large-area blue indium gallium nitride (InGaN) LED product line, known as the XBright Power Chip that has light output of nearly 17 times that of Cree's current leading chip product. And Manuel Lynch, vice president of business development for MicroSemi (Irvine, CA), a new entrant to the HB LED arena, announced the first results of its partnership with Nitronex (Raleigh, NC) in galium nitride (GaN)-on-silicon technology, as well as the development of a new chip-scale packaging technology for LEDs, known as LightChips that uses glass encapsulation and no wire bonds.

Bob Steele is Strategies in Light conference chair and keynote speaker, and director of the optoelectronic component practice at Strategies Unlimited (Mountain View, CA).

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