LG Chem plans to enter the core materials market for foldable OLED display panels with a scalable investment.
Transparent Polyimide cover window, Polarizing Plate and Optically Clear Adhesive (OCA) for tape are produced directly from PI varnish, also a raw material for a substrate of flexible OLED panel. It is a strategy outlined through LG Display to establish vertical integration of materials at a group level, and also to supply to Chinese partners in the near future.
According to some resources in the industry on 13 Nov, LG Chem’s Information & Electronic Materials division recently decided internally to go into production for PI varnish at its Cheongju plant. In recent years, this project has been pushed forward through collaboration between Information & Electronic Materials and Materials Research Laboratory. Timeline is being adjusted as mass production is scheduled to begin in Q2 next year, and followed by supply to customers from the following quarter onwards. It is very likely that investment and production line will be officially confirmed latest by Q1 next year.
The investment for PI cover window and film production will be worth approximately USD 20 million (KRW 20 billion). The amount seems relatively small due to the fact that LG Chem already has a sustaining film production line for Cellulose Triacetate (TAC) hence the cost is claimed to be low, according to the project insiders.
There are also plans to internalize hard-coating process and technology that cuts films, to compensate the weakness of transparent PI cover films. However, the initial hard-coating operation is said to be outsourced but for the time being, transparent PI cover window and films will be taken charge of by Toray.
PI varnish is a substrate material for flexible OLED, a solution in liquid form which glasses can be coated with, to resist heat. To date, LG Display has been receiving supply from Japanese international chemical manufacturing company Kaneka. Several prototypes have been developed by LG Chem pending evaluation in hopes of self-provision in the future.
Optically Clear Adhesive (OCA), an adhesive material used to attach transparent PI cover window and polarizing plates, has been undergoing development. Samsung SDI supplies OCA for foldable smartphones to Samsung Display from a domestic company located in Gimpo. LG Chem on the other hand is planning to develop and manufacture on its own to improve competitiveness. LG Chem claimed to have secured OCA technology since it acquired an adhesive film business back in Jul 2016.
LG Chem aims to supply flat panels for foldable OLED in a long run, but that requires production of ultra-thin (less than half of current polarizing panels) material and it is estimated that a long lead time is expected. However, Samsung Display continues to work with its vendor, Nitto Denko from Japan.
“As LG Chem just named a new CEO, Shin Hak-Chul, formerly Senior Vice President of 3M, many industry experts predict that the move will further strengthen LG Chem and other high-tech material parts providers,” said an insider.