Business of Displays

At Display Week with Universal Display Corporation

At Display Week with Universal Display Corporation

In Los Angeles last May, ID frequent contributor and industry expert Ken Werner spoke with Universal Display Corporation’s Janice DuFour about UDC’s thoughts and plans regarding the OLED industry. Later on, he took in a forward-looking OLED presentation by UDC’s Mike Hack.

By Ken Werner

Note: If you’re talking about OLED materials, and Ken was (check out his feature article on materials at Display Week 2017 in this issue), you need to talk to Universal Display Corporation (UDC). UDC, founded in 1994, currently owns or has rights to more than 3,000 patents for the commercialization of phosphorescent OLEDs (PHOLEDs) and other types of OLEDs for both display and lighting applications. UDC’s technologies and materials are licensed and supplied to companies including Samsung, LG, AUO, and Konica Minolta. –ID Editors

At the time of this writing, UDC was a Wall Street darling, with its share price having risen from about US $50 last November to roughly US $117 in Q2 2017. The rise of 27 percent in May alone was attributed to strong Q1 earnings. (Full disclosure: This author owns UDC shares.) The company’s 2016 acquisition of the privately owned contract research organization (CRO) Adesis was also regarded favorably by analysts (read more about Adesis below).

UDC predicts even greater growth in the OLED displays market, and has said that its next generation of emitters is now being adopted by customers. However, many experts now doubt that OLED will completely displace advanced LCD as the television display of choice (although it has made considerable inroads with mobile devices), and there is increasing speculation about TADF as an eventual competitor to UDC’s phosphorescent OLED (PHOLED).

On the Monday of Display Week, I sat down on a flight of stairs at the Los Angeles Convention Center for an interview with Janice DuFour (formerly Janice Mahon) of UDC. DuFour is vice president of tech commercialization and general manager of the PHOLED material sales business for UDC. (Note: DuFour’s answers are paraphrased, except when included in quotes.)

Ken Werner: You’ve announced that a new generation of PHOLED emitters are now being adopted by your customers. How are the materials evolving?

Janice DuFour: We introduced a new set of materials in 2016, and new emitters are currently in design cycles with some customers. There are improvements in lifetime and efficiency, but the big difference is that we are now designing for customer requirements instead of just releasing a new emitter once in a while. A lot of what we are doing is customizing our materials for a specified output.

In general, customers want high dynamic range and high luminance to compete with quantum-dot LCDs, but the emphasis does change. Lifetime can be the high priority one year, and efficiency the next.

KW: Do you see synergy in the acquisition of Adesis (which does R&D and specialty manufacturing for the pharmaceutical, chemical, and catalysts industries), or was this primarily a portfolio expansion?

JD: Adesis has been a CRO supplier for us. R&D programs were suggested by Julie (UDC CTO Julie Brown) or by new chemistries. Adesis was such an important part of our research and development that acquisition made sense for us. And Adesis was looking for growth and personal security for the owners.

There is a meaningful CRO business for Adesis, both in OLED and in other areas. They provide support for difficult chemistries in pharma, agriculture, synthesis, and other market areas. Early-stage mass production is their specialty, and they have space to grow. They will pursue more OLED business in the future.

KW: Is TADF a threat to PHOLED?

JD: “TADF is an interesting technology but it is not a meaningful threat in the short to medium term. It takes a lot of time to get efficiency, life, and color right all at the same time, and then move into manufacturing. And once a company is tied into a system, it’s hard to move.” Adesis worked on TADF for quite a while, so the technology is not new to us.

KW: What about blue emitters? (Note: Despite years of work, a fully achieved, deep-blue PHOLED emitter with appropriate efficiency and lifetime has eluded researchers, including those at UDC. This step is considered crucial for an all-phosphorescent OLED display.)

JD: “Internal momentum is building,” thanks in part to the BASF patent portfolio we acquired in 2016. The portfolio enhances our strength in chemical modeling and digital chemistry. The team we have working on blue is expressing “exciting positive momentum.”

KW: Is there anything else I should have asked you?

JD: “We are also doing more work on OVJP [organic vapor jet printing] technology. Samsung and LG are happy with what we are doing. OVJP combines VTE [vacuum thermal evaporation] and IJP [ink-jet printing].” We’re in R&D, but we are also building a pilot-scale tool and looking for partners. There is potential for large-scale TV screens.

The Business Outlook for OLEDs

Immediately after I spoke with DuFour, I took in a paper presentation, “Color Is Universal; New Opportunities for Phosphorescent OLED Displays,” by UDC VP for Business Development Mike Hack as part of the SID/DSCC Business Conference. In addition to addressing several of the topics covered in the interview above, Hack also addressed the topic of luminance and lifetime requirements by explaining that if a cell phone produces 1,000 nits of peak white luminance, it means that some sub-pixels must emit 5,000 or 10,000 nits. Hack said that UDC’s red PHOLEDs maintain over 98 percent of an initial 3,000-nit luminance for 500 hours; green maintains over 98 percent of 10,000 nits for 500 hours; and yellow maintains over 98 percent of 3,000 nits for 500 hours. He added that matching the emitter and host materials is central to achieving commercial lifetime performance.

Hack described OVJP in some detail. Despite a lot of work, he said, developers of solution-based-processed OLEDs have not been able to achieve the performance of vacuum-thermal evaporation (VTE) deposited materials. OVJP, he said, combines the advantages of both approaches. Steve Forrest (then at Princeton University, now at University of Michigan) invented OVJP around 2005. The method evaporates emitter material (as VTE does), then jets the vapor onto a substrate in the desired pattern (as IJP does). Recent work at UDC, said Hack, has produced the necessary line width.

Hack also described a pixel architecture in which only blue and yellow OLED emitters are used. Blue and yellow sub-pixels are viewed directly, while portions of the yellow sub-pixel pass through red and green color filters. Since the architecture relies either on a competitor’s fluorescent blue, or on a phosphorescent blue or TADF blue (neither of which currently exists), this structure doesn’t seem to make much sense at first look.

But if the point of comparison is not an RGB structure (which Hack calls an SBS – for side-by-side – structure), but LGD’s color-by-white OLED-TV structure, B-Y suddenly does make sense. The LGD structure mixes yellow and blue OLED emitters to make an un-patterned white light source, which is filtered through an RGB color matrix filter, much as is done in an LCD. This throws away two thirds of the light, or roughly one half if a RGBW structure is used.

The unfiltered B and Y of the UDC structure can be used to construct many unsaturated colors, said Hack, with the filtered R and G being used only for the smaller gamut of saturated colors, increasing efficiency over color-by-white. In addition, only half the normal resolution of a fine-metal-mesh mask is needed if the emitters are applied with VTE, which would permit a stronger mask than might be usable for TV-sized substrates. Since Hack emphasized this aspect, it is reasonable to view the B-Y architecture as a fallback for making more economical OLED-TVs if OVJP doesn’t pan out.

All this indicates that while there are a lot of OLED displays being produced today and a lot of interest in displacing LCD in large-panel markets, there are still obstacles to overcome. But if developers attain the goal of large OLED displays that are cost-competitive with LCDs, their efforts will be rewarded.  •


Ken Werner is principal of Nutmeg Consultants, specializing in the display industry, manufacturing, technology, and applications, including mobile devices and television. He consults for attorneys, investment analysts, and companies re-positioning themselves within the display industry or using displays in their products. He is the 2017 recipient of the Society for Information Display’s Lewis and Beatrice Winner Award. You can reach him at kwerner@nutmegconsultants.com.