Playnitride Targeting End of 2017 to Start Production of Micro LED Displays
September 11, 2017
Charles Li, chairman and CEO of Taiwan-based Micro LED maker PlayNitride, which earlier in the year was rumored to be a takeover candidate by Samsung, claims it takes about 10 seconds to mass transfer 200,000 Micro LED chips in laboratory and it will take 10 minutes to produce a 5-inch Micro LED smartphone panel. Li believes the key factor affecting Micro LED panel production has shifted from how to break through the technological bottlenecks to how to decrease production cost. PlayNitride plans to start trial production of Micro LED in the second half of 2017, Li said. While the process of mass transferring Micro LEDs has often been cited as a major volume production barrier, PlayNitride has attained lab yield rates of over 99% in mass transferring and placing Micro LED chips, Li noted. He says a Micro LED smartphone panel costs about US$300, much higher than AMOLED's US$70-80 and LCD's US$15. Therefore, it is difficult to use Micro LED panels in smartphones for the time being, Li noted. For commercializing Micro LED technology, it is necessary to seek feasible application in terms of cost, such as smartwatches, automotive transparent displays and VR (virtual reality)/AR (augmented reality) devices, Li indicated.
Micro LED chip sizes are about 1% the size of standard LED chips and their structural arrays allow pixel pitches to be reduced to micrometer level, facilitating resolutions over 1,500ppi, much higher than 400ppi for Retina LCD displays. Note OLED smartphone displays typically reach 700-800 ppi. For use as displays, Micro LED chips must be mass transfer repeatedly. There are several technologies for such repeated mass transfer. US-based LuxVue Technology owns a technology patent for mass transfer based on static absorption. US-based lux, of which Foxconn Electronics and Sharp are shareholders, applies fluid dynamics to mass transfer. Taiwan government-sponsored ITRI has developed mass transfer technology based on electromagnetic absorption.
The current status of PlayNitride seems quite promising, but there is quite a bit if work remaining.
This reality should be enough to scare panel makers away from the smartphone market, right now, where rigid 5.5” OLEDs sell for US$12.50 now and will likely drop by 2020, when more production kicks in. The use of a Micro LED for smartwatches as suggested by Lee may make sense but the average OLED panel cost is <US$2.50. Typical resolution is 320x320, so a panel would take 15 seconds to fully load without redundancy.
There is, obviously, more work to be done as moving from the test lab to production usually involves a doubling or tripling of the costs until very high volume kicks in. Moreover, targeting the high-end smartphones or for that matter smartwatches would likely require a flexible backplane, not a showstopper for Micro LEDs, but certainly more difficult and more expensive. Another issue would be the price of the Micro LED chips, which for smartphones, should not be more than 40% of the total cost. If 12m Micro LED were needed, the cost/chip would be US$0.000002, not much revenue for an LED chip maker used to getting US$0.01 per LED chip. Nonetheless, the semiconductor industry has been able to reduce costs significantly over time so long term this may not be an issue.