Televisions based on Organic Light Emitting Diode (OLED) technology, like those premium models sold by LG Electronics and Sony, might be getting more affordable in the very near future.

According to a study released by display market research firm IHS Markit, entitled Inkjet Printing for Active Matrix OLED (AMOLED) Technology and Market Report 2019, Active Matrix OLED (AMOLED) display panels manufactured with the use of inkjet printing (IJP) technology, are set to enter mass production next year.

As a result, IHS said the manufacturing capacity for OLED panels of various sizes and applications are forecasted to rise “as much as 12-fold from 2020 through 2024.”

Global capacity will increase to 1.3 million substrates in 2024, up from 105,000 in 2020, the study said. Measured in terms of area, capacity will rise to 7.3 million square meters in 2024, up from 209,000 in 2020.

IHS said the switch to IJP OLED production is scheduled to be thrown next year, when Japan-based JOLED Inc., which long has been involved in developing the manufacturing process, becomes the first supplier to move from trial manufacturing to full mass production.

IHS said after that, “Chinese manufacturers will quickly follow suit, investing in volume manufacturing lines in 2020 and 2021.” Other IJP OLED interests should then throw in with production of their own in 2021 and beyond.

“In recent years, IJP has attracted the attention of panel makers due to its strong potential to reduce the cost of OLED production,” according to a statement on the IHS report by Chase Li, IHS Markit senior analyst. “Despite years of competition with LCDs in the market for high-end displays of all sizes, OLED market penetration remains limited because of its expensive production costs. However, IJP has the potential to dramatically reduce manufacturing expenses, making OLEDs more cost-competitive with LCDs in products including televisions and displays for computers and tablets.”

The move to printing OLED substrates is intended to bring huge efficiencies and scale in OLED panel production compared with slower and comparatively lower-yield production used for conventional White OLED (WOLED) panels like those in LG and Sony OLED TVs.

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In WOLED technology, the self-emitting OLED display panel emits white light that is beamed through color filters similar to LCD TVs. But IJP OLED panels have Red Green and Blue (RGB) self-emitting pixels. This brings advantages as well as certain disadvantages compared with WOLED screens. On the downside, IJP OLED panels may suffer lower lifetimes, less luminescence and inferior color performance, compared with WOLED panels, IHS said. But these drawbacks “can be compensated for by adopting larger aperture ratios and by adding color filters on the top of printed OLED devices,” the research firm said.

Meanwhile, in large-sized display applications like televisions, IJP OLED production is expected to be much cheaper than conventional WOELD manufacturing. For example, when producing a 65-inch, 4K TV on a Gen-10 line, IJP can cut costs by 15 to 25% compared to WOLED, IHS said.

The savings should also be passed along to other OLED applications requiring small- and mid-size screens. IHS said “IJP OLED can reduce production costs by about 20% compared with the fine metal mask (FMM) OLED method used in the production of 13.3-inch panels on Gen-6 production lines.”

Compared with WOLED and FMM OLED, IJP requires lower initial investments in machinery and fab construction. The process also has better material usage of 95% and lower operating costs during production, IHS said.

Unfortunately for OLED TV enthusiasts, IHS said IJP OLED production will likely first target mid-sized IT applications, like laptop screens and tablets, before large-sized TV panels.

IT brands expect IJP to reduce the cost of OLED panels for IT products over the long term.

“AMOLED shipments for tablet PCs, notebook PC and monitors are still lower than LCD shipments because of the challenges involved in stabilizing yields,” Li explained. “Therefore, IJP OLEDs may be a good alternative for the IT segment because the technology can achieve 80 to 200 pixels per inch (ppi) with an RGB side-by-side layout, or even 400 ppi and significantly higher.”

IHS continued: “Beyond advantages like lower initial investments, adopting IJP OLED for mid-sized panel production presents fewer challenges in terms of equipment supply. Moreover, yields and panelization can be higher compared to the FMM approach.”

In recent years, Chinese panel makers have taken note of the popularity of OLED display technology and have stepped up efforts to take over the market by opening OLED display production plants of their own.

As of the start of 2019, seven companies had initiated investments in IJP OLED display production around the world, building several pilot and R&D lines during the past two years, according to the research firm. Chinese panel makers have been the most motivated of these companies, driven by a desire to surpass their rivals in South Korea and take the lead in the OLED display market leveraging IJP OLED technology, IHS said.

The firm said investments the IJP OLED production process ranks highly among these companies which are looking for investments that fit in with China’s long-term national strategies while providing “a profitable technology that will ease the financial pressure involved in competing in the heavily oversupplied LCD market.”

To get more information, the IHS Markit Inkjet Printing for AMOLED Technology and Market Report 2019 is available here.

By Greg Tarr

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