The low utilization/MOCVD uptick phenomenon, LED efficacy and price, more from Lightfair

May 14, 2012 — Barclays Capital analysts attended Lightfair International, a large, US-based general lighting tradeshow, and gleaned several trends in light-emitting diodes (LEDs) and organic LEDs (OLEDs) for lighting. Data presented at the show points to strong and steady LED lighting demand growth in 2012, though the LED lighting “inflection year” is still in the future.

While utilization rates are still relatively low in LED fabs, many chipmakers are reluctant to convert all of their backlighting-specific (BLU LEDs for display applications) LED tools to lighting-specific production, because they value yields honed for a specific design. Chipmakers told Barclays that they do not want to reconfigure metal-organic chemical vapor deposition (MOCVD) tools unless they are confident that this backlighting-specific production will no longer be needed. This suggests that anticipated LED lighting demand in H2 2012 and beyond will require more MOCVD tool orders, even without higher capacity utilization rates in LED fabs. Gradually improved MOCVD capex, in Q3 2012 and beyond, will be supported by a steady stabilization in LED supply/demand as 2013 approaches.

Barclays observed that LED chips still compete based on price, even among the Tier 1 LED makers, and further cost reductions are needed if margins are to survive. LED component price declines did moderate to an extent relative to last year’s price cuts, but the aggressive pricing trend continues, driven in part by end customers leveraging Tier 3 quality price points in China against Tier 1 and 2 LED makers. Until LED makers reach 80%+ effective yields in the fabs, the distribution of LEDs per run is fairly wide. Chips that do not meet their application’s specs are dumped on the market at a much lower price. Indeed, even in lighting-grade LEDs, there is “no rationality for price points,” according to 1 Tier-1 supplier. The good news for LED revenues is that unit volume growth is offsetting the price cuts.

The quality barrier between Tier 1 and Tier 2/3 LED suppliers continues to hold, with only ~10 LED makers that can reach 100lm/W efficacy levels in mass production, and meet Energy Star, UL, etc., specifications. In step with the luminous efficacy improvements at the chip level, system-level efficacy also continues to increase, with various troffers and luminaries already approaching 100lm/W. Korean LED makers are considering leveraging BLU LEDs for some lighting applications, like linear lighting and troffers, because specifications are similar. As a result, Samsung is becoming a major threat to Tier-1 LED suppliers, longer term, as it focuses on quality.

Also read: As LED patents run out, supply chain value will shift downstream

With LED lifetimes approaching 50K hours, LEDs are no longer the predictors of the lifetime of the full system, and the lifetime of the other components is becoming more prominent. Despite various certifications available, data on the lifetime and reliability at the total system level is still fairly limited.

While still in the early stages of development, OLED lighting was also being exhibited by several suppliers, with Philips and OSRAM appearing to be at the lead from an efficacy and product quality standpoint. Philips’ OLED lighting panels reached 25lm/W this year, with the company aiming for 60lm/W next year, driven by new developments in OLED materials (Philips using RGB stack with combination of phosphorescent and fluorescent materials); new developments in the glass substrate (adding reflective element to the glass composition); and advances in the deposition and processing technology. However, while reaching 60lm/W efficacy would be a big breakthrough, the key from there would be lumen maintenance, which is still very low for the OLED lighting panels currently available on the market. And while some companies suggested that OLED lighting is now moving from a designer/architectural application to a high-end lighting application, based on the product specs and the pricing, Barclays puts OLED lighting ~5-7 years behind LED lighting.

This year’s Lightfair was “almost entirely focused on LEDs,” said Barclays analysts. While LED dominance in new products at the booths is not yet indicative of end market penetration, it highlights the inevitability of LED lighting adoption in the coming years. Most lighting manufacturers and suppliers and LED makers alike see 2012 as a year of steady, strong LED lighting demand growth, though not yet an inflection. The biggest ramp in demand remains in segments where lighting is on for longer than 8 hours per day (streetlights, gas station canopies, retail, hospitality, warehouses). This is aided by the Federal Recovery Act spending on retrofitting public fixtures. Membership in the Solid State Street Lighting Consortium — a Department of Energy (DOE)-sponsored consortium of cities and municipalities looking to upgrade their lighting systems to energy-efficient solutions — has expanded to ~350 members from less than 100 last year. Payback periods for LED installs are compressing — for outdoor lights, LED systems have gone from 50-60% more expensive than non-LED lights last year to ~30-50% more. The payback for replacing non-LED luminaires in many applications is currently 2-5 years, sufficient to ensure funding for many commercial and industrial users. Utility rebates and government subsidies offered in various regions enhance paybacks further.

Many companies at Lightfair indicated that advances in LED chips and components, especially with regard to high efficacy, have lowered the cost of other components in a lighting system, driving down costs.

Learn more about Lightfair at http://www.lightfair.com.

Visit the LED Manufacturing Channel on Solid State Technology and subscribe to the LED Manufacturing News monthly e-newsletter!

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