Inkjet Printing Tech Expected To Lower Costs, Up Capacity For Big OLED Screens

July 4, 2019 by Dave Haynes

The research firm IHS Markit says OLED display costs are expected to drop as technology that effectively prints the displays matures and production capacity expands.

Inkjet-printed (IJP) organic light emitting diode (OLED) display technology is set to enter mass production next year, with capacity expected to rise as much as 12X from 2020 through 2024, says the business information provider.

“Inkjet technology is expected to be the next key technology used in the OLED production in the near term,” says IHS in the abstract for a special report on the tech. “Compared with conventional methods, like WOLED and FMM OLED, inkjet OLED technology has potentials to save 15% – 25% production cost, which makes this technology cost-competitive than other approaches.”

“According IHS Markit analysis, total substrate input for IJP factories will reach 1,301K per year by 2024 with area at around 7,334 K m². The IJP RGB printer market could reach USD 506 million by 2022.”

Costs are a big deal with large format OLEDs. The screens are awesome, but the street price for these things remains largely in the Saks Fifth Avenue realm of “If you have to ask about the price, you can’t afford it.”

Global capacity will increase to 1.3 million substrates in 2024, up from 105,000 in 2020, according to the high-end forecast scenario presented in the new IHS Markit report entitled: Inkjet Printing for AMOLED Technology and Market Report 2019. Measured in terms of area, capacity will rise to 7.3 million square meters in 2024, up from 209,000 in 2020.

The starting gun for the IJP OLED market will sound next year, when Japan-based JOLED Inc. becomes the first suppler to make the switch from trial manufacturing to full mass production. Chinese manufacturers will quickly follow suit, investing in volume manufacturing lines in 2020 and 2021, while other panel manufacturers will join the IJP OLED party 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,” said Chase Li, senior analyst at IHS Markit. “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.”

Printing the way to cost savings

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

Meanwhile, the competitiveness of IJP OLED also extends to the small- and mid-size display market. IJP OLED can reduce production costs by about 20 percent 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. It also boasts high material usage of 95 percent or better and has lower operating costs during production.

IJP OLED moves through IT before reaching TV

Although IJP initially was targeted at production of TV panels on newer-generation lines, inkjet technology is making inroads into the mid-size display market first—particularly in information technology (IT) applications.

Because IJP OLEDs don’t perform as well as WOLEDs, especially in terms of lifetime and brightness, some panel manufacturers are trying to develop the technology for IT panels, including monitors, notebook PCs and tablets. IT brands expect IJP to reduce the cost of OLED panels for IT products over the long term.

“Active-matrix OLED (AMOLED) shipments for tablet PCs, notebook PC and monitors are still lower than LCD shipments because of the challenges involved in stabilizing yields,” Li said. “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.”

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 the meantime, the disadvantages of IJP OLED products—like lower lifetimes, less luminescence and inferior color performance—can be compensated for by adopting larger aperture ratios and by adding color filters on the top of printed OLED devices.

Chinese panel makers motivated to succeed

Until 2019, seven companies had initiated investments in IJP OLED display production, building several pilot and R&D lines during the past two years. Among those companies, Chinese panel makers have been the most motivated, with these suppliers striving to surpass their rivals in South Korea and take the lead in IJP OLED technology.

There are two major motivations for Chinese panel makers. The first is the fact that making investments IJP OLED fits in with China’s long-term national strategies. The second is that Chinese panel makers are trying to find a profitable technology that will ease the financial pressure involved in competing in the heavily oversupplied LCD market.

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