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Market Analysis of MicroLED

1 Abstract: according to maims consulting, MicroLED is getting more and more attention. Up to now, startups in the field have raised more than $800 million, of which at least $100 million has been att...

31/10/2019

Abstract: according to maims consulting, MicroLED is getting more and more attention. Up to now, startups in the field have raised more than $800 million, of which at least $100 million has been attracted in 2019. Apple has invested $1.5 billion to $2 billion in the past five years. Panel manufacturers such as Samsung, LG, AUO and Innolux have also significantly increased their investment in this area. 

Fully developed micro LED

According to maims consulting, Micro LED technology is getting more and more attention. Up to now, startups in the field have raised more than $800 million, of which at least $100 million has been attracted in 2019. Apple has invested $1.5 billion to $2 billion in the past five years. Panel manufacturers such as Samsung, LG, AUO and Innolux have also significantly increased their investment in this area.

In the field of MicroLED, patent applications are growing exponentially, and technologies in all aspects are constantly developing. In the past 24 months, the external quantum efficiency of blue and green microLED chips has increased more than doubled. Some of the transfer and assembly processes are close to the performance required for some consumer applications.

Nearly 20 companies have demonstrated a large number of prototype products in the past 18 months. The demo shown covers a wide range of display types, sizes, and technologies. Many companies offer native RGB or color conversion displays on thin-film transistor (TFT) backplanes, and some of affairs are from Playnitride、CSOT、Samsung、LG、glō、AUO、eLux, Kyocera and so on. Lumiode developed a native RGB or color conversion display on a single integrated low-temperature polysilicon (LTPs). 

At the same time, Plessey, GL 333, lumens, JB display, sharp, ostendo and other companies provide micro LED displays on the CMOS backplane. X-display developed a discrete micro driver IC. Multiple prototypes based on TFT backplane prove that microled displays can utilize the capacity of existing panel manufacturers, thus simplifying the supply chain.

On the other hand, device manufacturers have noticed and are beginning to develop specialized devices for assembling, bonding, detecting, testing and repairing microleds. LED manufacturers have also shown interest, for example, Sanan optoelectronics plans to invest $1.8 billion to build a mini led and micro LED manufacturing base. OSRAM, Seoul semiconductor, Nichia or Lumileds are also actively laying out, and playnitride is completing its first microLED test line.

Technical progress and remaining obstacles of microled in the past 18 months 

For critical applications, major barriers still exist

For many applications, the economy requires that the chip size be pushed below 10 um, which exacerbates the challenges of efficiency, transfer, and manufacturability. Although significant improvements have been made, efficiency is still low for small chips. The display efficiency based on this technology is still unable to match OLED. Therefore, efforts are still needed to further improve the internal quantum efficiency, light extraction and beam shaping of green and red microLED chips.

Epitaxial and chip manufacturing is no longer an obstacle, but stable yield management and repair strategies are still needed. Transfer and assembly processes need to move from desktop experiments to powerful mass production equipment. The emergence of various technical routes has caused some confusion and delay. Equipment manufacturers may be reluctant to commit. As a result, devices developed for some processes or architectures are often not compatible with other devices. Developing equipment with uncertain processes is challenging. It's risky to choose a technology now, but it's also risky to wait until you finally enter the increasingly crowded competitive environment of intellectual property (IP).

For microled companies, the first few prototypes offer considerable rewards in terms of experience, but it may take a lot of trial to move towards a mature consumer display. Startups are heading for the valley of death. Many start-ups may not be able to raise enough money to successfully move through this capital and resource intensive phase. As a strategic investor or development partner, support and cooperation with large display manufacturers or original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) are essential.

For Micro Displays, the Challenge is Slightly Lower

Many prototypes can be built on wafers, and supply chain construction is easier because many processes can be outsourced. However, the operation cost of small-scale factory is very high, and the non recurring engineering cost may be very high.

Preliminary roadmap of MicroLED industry in the next 48 months

When will smart phones and TVs land after the appearance of the demonstration functions of AR, smart watch and automobile application?

The smart watch is a perfect beachhead. Small batch, small size and high price elasticity make it possible to use larger chips with more redundancy. Apple can achieve mass production, making smart watches a stepping stone to overcoming supply chain barriers and improving technology for other applications. Other companies can get to market faster with smaller, lower specification devices. GL 333 has established a supply chain with Kyocera, and playnitride is expected to ship passive matrix wearable displays with its partner RiTdisplay by the end of 2020.

Micro displays such as augmented reality (AR) and flat vision display (HUD) also have a strong demonstration role. Microled may be the only technology that can perfectly meet the requirements of brightness, efficiency and overall dimensions. However, more investment is needed to provide full-color display and efficient coupling with waveguide optics. For automotive applications, microled can provide unique and competitive high brightness, contrast, robustness and environmental stability, as well as flexible appearance and comfortable display. Higher price elasticity means that microLED can be commercialized quickly, but the long certification cycle may delay its application to 2023.

By contrast, the TV market is more challenging. OLED continues to develop. When microled is ready, there may be little room left for differentiation. By then, up to 75 inch TVs will be commoditized, but there is still a chance for larger panels to be modular. Companies like Samsung may use smaller, high-end models to test water for "luxury" home theaters or high-end retail before 2020-2021. It will take at least two years for smaller chips less than 5 um to meet the demand of the consumer market.

For smart phones, OLED will become a mature, high-performance and cost-effective solution when microLED is ready. Microled cannot compete with OLED in terms of cost. In order to compete with OLED, differentiated performance and functions still need to be developed. Chips of less than 5 um are needed to maintain an acceptable cost range, while scale effects require a large amount of investment at the supply chain end.

Apple is still the company most likely to push the development of the microLED to mass applications in smartphones. This may appear after two to three years of the launch of smart watches, but it also raises a real problem for the industry. What if Apple abandons microled?



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