MicroLEDs for displays: How we can make it happen

Many large companies and startups are currently working on microLED technologies for display applications: from LED makers such as Epistar, Nichia or Osram to display makers like AUO, BOE or CSOT and OEMs such as Apple or Facebook/Oculus. Due to the multiplicity of players and the diversity of strategies, KnowMade, part of Yole Group of Companies underlines a complex and heavy patent landscape. “Enabling large scale microLED displays manufacturing requires to bring together 3 major disparate know-how and supply chain bricks including LED manufacturing, display manufacturing and technology transfer & assembly”, asserts Dr Eric Virey, Senior Technology & Market Analyst at Yole Développement (Yole), part of Yole Group of Companies. The microLED displays supply chain is therefore still under construction. Participants have to find the way to collaborate together and define the most efficient manufacturing approach.

display supply chain

While very promising in terms of performance, there are still multiple manufacturing challenges that need to be addressed to enable cost effective, high volume manufacturing of microLED displays. Based on its latest microLED display technology & market report , the “More than Moore” market research and strategy consulting company Yole proposes a live event titled Microled Displays: hype and reality | Hopes & challenges. Taking place on March 29 at 5:00 PM CET this webcast powered by I-micronews.com welcomes Dr Eric Virey from Yole. During this event, Dr Virey will expose the technical challenges and market opportunities of the microLED technologies. To register, click MicroLED Display.

“Even if the remaining technology roadblocks are removed, no company beside Apple and its startup Luxvue acquired in 2014 currently appear to have the positioning and leverage to enable the supply chain,” comments Yole’s expert. So what could happen?

If successful, microLED displays could have a profound impact on both the LED and display supply chains. Indeed, the development of large scale microLED displays requires the combination of three major disparate technologies: LED, TFT backplane and chip transfer. The supply chain is complex and lengthy compared with that of traditional displays. Each process is critical and managing every aspect effectively will be challenging. “No single player can solve all the issues and it seems unlikely that any will fully vertically integrate”, comments Dr Virey from Yole. And he details:

• Small companies could bring together the different technologies to serve the AR/MR market, but for high volume consumer applications such as mobiles or TVs, only a strong push from a leading OEM can enable a supply chain.
• Apple has a unique market positioning: and appears to be the most likely candidate with enough leverage and financial strength to bring all partners together.
• Other candidates including Oculus for example, have also invested in microLEDs for AR/MR applications.

So what will be the next step? Yole confirms: each company will attempt to capture as much added value as it can.

For LED makers, low defect requirements and high resolution features of microLED mean large investments in new clean room and lithography equipment which might be better suited to CMOS foundries.

Traditional display makers are used to manufacturing both back and front planes in an integrated fashion and delivering finished panels to OEMs. With microLEDs, they will push back against becoming component suppliers, only providing a TFT backplane to whichever participant will produce the final display assembly: OEMs or OSAT players.

In parallel, some companies will benefit from microLED displays independently of how the supply chain is shaped. These beneficiaries include MOCVD reactor and other LED equipment manufacturers as well as wafer suppliers.

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