Organic LED makers are set for a surge in sales

Lynn Savage SEOUL, South Korea – Despite a consumer market wary of spending cash on high-ticket items, organic LED (OLED) makers are set for a surge in sales, which will be great news for South Korea, the growing home of…

Lynn Savage

SEOUL, South Korea – Despite a consumer market wary of spending cash on high-ticket items, organic LED (OLED) makers are set for a surge in sales, which will be great news for South Korea, the growing home of OLED manufacturing.

Featuring ultrasharp resolution and incredible flexibility, OLEDs are used primarily for displays or for general lighting applications. The thin-film-based technology is used in display-centric devices ranging from cell phones and tablet computers to cameras and small televisions. Lighting devices made with OLEDs currently are less prevalent, but they are noted for their power efficiency and high brightness.

The global market for OLEDs is expected to grow from more than $3 billion this year to almost $5.3 billion in 2016 – an annual growth rate of 11.6 percent – according to BCC Research of Wellesley, Mass.

Seoul-based Samsung Mobile Display Co. Ltd. is by far the world’s leading producer of active-matrix OLEDs (AMOLEDs). The company was formed by its parent, Samsung Electronics, in 2009, but its OLED technology had already been under development for nearly a decade. OLED displays are thin, light and easy to read in most lighting conditions but had not caught on quickly because of their higher cost to manufacture compared with well-established LCD- and LED-based displays. As the technology continues to rise (however slowly) in popularity, production costs shrink further – which makes larger and larger OLED displays more attractive to customers and more feasible for product designers.

A key contributor of OLED technology is Universal Display Corp. (UDC) of Ewing, N.J., which has licensed its technology to Samsung Mobile Display as well as to Germany-based Novaled AG and others. UDC, which has already worked with Samsung for more than 10 years, ultimately hopes to get Apple to use its tech in next-generation iPhones, once manufacturing capacity expands to meet Apple’s requirements for the popular smartphone. Earlier this year, UDC established a Seoul-based subsidiary – Universal Display Corp. Korea Inc. – to work with a growing number of manufacturers who use its intellectual property for either lighting or displays.

LG Display Corp., also in Seoul, had started its foray into the OLED market with screens for cell phones made by Nokia and others; however, it recently announced that it is abandoning the small and medium OLED display segments to Samsung while it pursues a 55-in. OLED-based TV for release next year. Novaled, which is headquartered in Dresden, Germany, also opened an office in Seoul in July of this year.

“OLED technology is not a plug-and-play technology,” said Andreas Haldi, the newly installed manager of Novaled’s Korean office. “OLEDs have several organic layers that have to be adjusted to each other for best performance. It is therefore important to have an OLED expert close to the test sites of the main clients to speed up their development with quick feedback loops.” (See below for an interview with Haldi.)

Companies such as Novaled and UDC aren’t staking all of their fortunes in South Korea – Japan, Taiwan and China will be strong players as well – but the lure of partnerships with Samsung, LG Display and others will likely ensure a strong OLED display market. If consumers can bear to part with the money.

An interview with Dr. Andreas Haldi, Novaled AG

Where does South Korea fit in with Novaled’s plans?

South Korea is currently the center of OLED development, with Samsung selling a large number of AMOLED displays for mobile phones and with LG Display starting their mass production for the same market in September. Samsung alone produces more OLED displays than all the other companies in the world combined. Therefore, it made sense for Novaled to open a representative office in Korea to keep in touch with the major OLED players and to help them push the OLED business further by enhancing the display performance with the Novaled PIN OLED technology.

What is Novaled’s relationship with Korean companies?

Novaled has connections with other players in the field of organic electronics; i.e., OLED material manufacturers, OLED lighting manufacturers or production tool manufacturers. You might have heard that one of our partners, the Fraunhofer IPMS in Dresden, Germany, has a big tool by [Korea-based] Sunic System. Therefore, we know them quite well, too.

What are some of the highlights of Novaled’s OLED intellectual property portfolio?

The Novaled IP portfolio is quite large. We have patents for OLED materials, OLED applications and OLED manufacturing. Highlights are definitely our material patents that cover our PIN technology with our p and n dopants and our host materials for transport layers. But we also have important patents for OLED applications with a technology that can increase the performance for display and lighting products.

Novaled’s main products are definitely our materials, including our dopants and our transport materials. However, since the OLED business has attracted many new players who do not have any experience in this field, we have also supported such companies with know-how transfers on the OLED technology and fabrication, and we have helped them set up their own manufacturing facilities.

Who are some of your rivals in the OLED market?

Our dopant materials are quite unique, but there are several materials companies that sell transport materials as well. The strongest portfolios in this area can probably be found with Idemitsu Kosan and Hodogaya in Japan or with LG Chem in Korea. However, the main interest of all of us is currently to push the OLED business forward instead of pushing somebody else out of it. Depending on how big this business will get, we might all be able to be a part of it.

Have cost-of-manufacturing concerns been eased, or is there room for improvement?

Since we do not make display or lighting products, I cannot tell you how much room for improvement there still is. We are very confident that the current trend will lead to extraordinary OLED displays at very reasonable costs, and I expect that the advances with the AMOLEDs in Korea will also push the OLED lighting market to sell big soon.