OLED is widely used in smartphones and smart watches, but hardly in IT applications, or for tablets, notebooks and monitors. Liquid crystal display (LCD) is still the dominant panel used in non-smartphone products.
South Korean display equipment maker had hoped for Samsung Display and LG Display to expand their spending on their production capacity for IT OLED panels, but there has been no related news announced by the two companies for over a year.
Three things will be needed for the pair to start aggressively expanding their IT OLED production capacities: a stable, volume demand from customers, technology to realize a new emission layer and economic feasibility.
Multiple sources that TheElec talked at Samsung Display and LG Display say customer is the foremost thing needed.
Expanding panel production capacities requires billions of dollars in spending, which require a thorough review of market demand, line operation rate and profitability.
According to market research firm Omdia, this year, 5.5 million tablets will use OLED panels; in 2022 this will expand to 6.1 million units. OLED application in notebooks will also expand from 3.6 million units to 4.3 million units over the same time period. This is a relatively high growth rate and the panels are bigger meaning they will fetch more in price per unit.
However, in absolute volume, OLED panels for smartphones dwarfs these figures. According to Omdia, a total of 585 million units of OLED smartphones will be shipped this year. Smart watches that use OLED panels will reach 120 million units in shipment at the same time.
OLED use in IT products will gradually increase, one of the sources said. But display panel companies will need secure enough volume orders from customers before executing any large spending in the sector, they said. Another one of the sources said Samsung Display and LG Display can currently convert exiting lines with low operation rate into those for IT OLED panels with the current demand that don’t require large investments.
Another requirement for large spending in the sector will be technology. The OLED industry is currently focusing on two stack tandem structure for OLED panels __ where two layers of red, green and blue emission layers are stacked __ as well as fine metal mask for super large mother glasses.
Two stack tandem is shown to double the luminance in OLED panels and offer four times the life span compared to singe tack. The sources said Apple had asked its South Korean display panel supplier to use the two stack tandem structure for the OLED panel it plans to use for an iPad launching in 2023. Two stack tandem is deemed need for OLED panels in tablets as the device is used longer than smartphones that average two to three years of use, the sources said.
Samsung Display is planning to apply the single stack structure for the OLED panels it plans to supply for iPads next year. The OLED panels it supplies for Samsung Electronics’ Galaxy Book Pro series also uses a single stack structure.
LG Display, which is highly likely to supply OLED panels for the iPad launching in 2023, has already applied the two stack tandem structure in automotive OLED panels.
Fine metal mask, or FMM, is also a challenge. A FMM that can used for Gen 8.5 substrate (2200x2500mm) over the current Gen 6 (1500x1850mm) is needed. This is because of economic feasibility. FMM is used to deposit organic material on the substrate. A larger substrate means more panels can be manufactured per substrate at the same time. More of the substrate is used without being wasted, especially for larger panels.
For example, a Gen 6 substrate can make 48 units of 13.3-inch panels. A Gen 8 substrate will be able to make 96 units. This increase is productivity can drastically reduce cost for display makers.
Samsung Display is more likely start expanding its spending on IT OLED panels than LG Display, the sources said.
Samsung Display has recently increased its IT OLED panel production target for this year from 4 million units to between 5.5 million to 6 million units.