MicroLEDs show progress on all fronts: have they reached escape velocity?

Product Related

Cost is the biggest challenge, but Apple and Samsung are carving paths toward the consumer.

“The display industry is currently favorable to microLED: China won the LCD war, the industry is turning its focus to technologies that deliver differentiation and high margins.” states Eric Virey, Ph.D., Principal Analyst, Technology & Market, Displays at Yole Développement (Yole). He adds: “Helped by a COVID-driven demand boost, it has swung back to profit and is generating cash to fund new technologies. While the LCD business model needs high-volume commodity products to absorb huge fab costs and make money on premium products, microLED could see CapEx-light operations focused on serving premium markets”.

Titre du visuel

june 2021

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Thematic(s) :

In this context, Yole provides in-depth investigations of disruptive display technologies and related markets to identify the latest innovations and business opportunities.
Therefore, Yole launched the MicroLED Displays – Intellectual Property Landscape and Analysis 2021 report at the beginning of 2021. The report details deep insights into the status of microLED display technologies, identifying emerging technologies and trends for each technology node.
In addition, released today, the MicroLED Displays Market, Industry and Technology Trends 2021 report presents market trends and forecasts, supply chain developments, technology trends, technical insights and analyses, take-aways and outlook, and an in-depth understanding of the ecosystem and strategies of the leading players.

What is the status of microLED technology? What are the recent developments? What are the remaining pinch points? Which applications could microLED displays address and when? Who are the suppliers to watch, and what innovative technologies are they working on?

Yole presents today its vision of the microLED display industry.

As analyzed by Yole’s team in the new MicroLED Displays Market, Industry and Technology Trends 2021 report, Apple put microLED on the map when it acquired LuxVue. Display makers were initially skeptical but now believe that, while challenging, microLED displays might be credible contenders in some applications. As a result, money and resources are flowing into microLED, fueling a virtuous circle with faster developments, and improving prospects attracting further investments.
According to Zine Bouhamri, Ph.D., Team Lead Analyst, Imaging & Display Activities at Yole: “LCD or OLED didn’t take off until HVM equipment became available. Equipment makers are now offering microLED-dedicated tools, and, although hindered by a lack of standard processes, some are developing one-stop solutions, including transfer, inspection and repair”.
Mass transfer is no longer considered a fundamental roadblock by most players. Many issues remain, but the industry now sees a clearer runway. Commercial tools from ASMPT, Toray, Coherent/3D Micromac, and others using different processes accelerate development. More are coming from TDK, V-Technology, Besi, Bolite/Contrel, etc.
Samsung and Vuzix (with JB Display) are introducing the first commercial microLED products in 2021. They won’t yet move the needle of the display industry but are positive developments.

Strong momentum doesn’t guarantee success: many technical and supply chain challenges could still derail microLED. Many solutions look great on paper, but real-life process integration in a high-volume manufacturing environment is much more challenging. Cost is the #1 obstacle and is still 20x to 50x too high for consumer products.
LCD cost decreased 300x, from US$30k/m2 to US$100/m2 in 25 years. However, LCD started with a blank canvas. Cost reduction opportunities lay across the board: materials, equipment, processes, etc. The bulk of the reduction was achieved by generation scaling. MicroLED, on the other hand, exists at the intersection of the mature Semiconductor, LED, and Flat Panel Display industries. Fewer contributors present 300x cost reduction opportunities, but in many cases, microLED hasn’t yet leveraged technologies and wafer processing equipment that could help deliver significant improvements.
For Eric Virey: “Apple clearly saw that: the company is driving its supply chain to 200 mm wafer to unlock the fantastic efficiency of the mature SEMI manufacturing philosophy that has remained untapped by the LED industry”.
This risky and initially costly bet could pay off, giving the company a unique advantage when addressing the smartphone market, which requires very small and low-cost yet-high performance chips.
Most other players are, for now, on the opposite path, building knowledge and looking at cost-reduction on existing 4” LED fabs while waiting for more clarity in the prospects of microLED. This approach could work for 1st products (B2B TV, etc) or small displays but likely won’t deliver the small die size and performance required for HVM of consumer TVs or smartphones.

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