German Government Ups Ante for OLED Research with €500 Million in Funding

MUNICH, Germany – The German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) announced in early September that it plans to spend €100 million over the next five years to support research on organic light-emitting diodes (OLEDs), encourage collaboration between companies, and create jobs domestically. In addition, the industry expects to spend €500 million toward OLED development in the same timeframe.

The initiative was originally proposed to the BMBF by Osram Opto Semiconductors, Philips, and Merck; the ministry then joined the effort and issued a first call for joint research papers in the OLED field. The program will involve collaboration between 33 companies and institutions including Novaled, Merck, Osram OS, Samsung, and the Fraunhofer Institute.

Four projects out of the 20 initially proposed have been approved for funding so far and a fifth is under way, according to Dr. Frank Schlie-Roosen, head of the BMBF's Optical Technologies Unit. Each project is being carried out by a joint research team, each consisting of several companies or institutions working toward a common goal by each tackling different elements of the same project. All of the projects will be supervised by the BMBF and the project's agency, and specific technical milestones will be set to ensure progress.

"An industrial implementation of the results in a commercial production process is not within the scope of the research projects, but is of course the ultimate goal of the funding procedure," Schlie-Roosen said.

Funding and collaboration ideally should result in greater resources to develop new device architectures, materials systems, and process systems that will improve lifetimes, efficiencies, and reliabilities, and do so at real-istic costs, according to Craig Cruickshank, principal analyst and founder of Cintelliq Ltd., a U.K.-based research company that analyzes the organic semiconductor industry.

At the official announcement of the initiative on Sept. 11, German Federal Research Minister Anette Schavan called optical technologies "an engine of growth and innovation in Germany."

"It is important for Germany, and also for Europe, to have greater involvement with the development and manufacture of technologies that will fundamentally change the ways in which we conduct our lives and use the natural resources available to us," Cruickshank said. "Europe has played an early lead in the OLED industry since the late 1980s, and it is a key driver of innovation and economic activity. Germany – and Europe as a whole – needs to remain at the leading edge of technology development."

Though the technology to be developed under this initiative will be based largely in OLED lighting sources for general illumination purposes, there is also the potential for some focus on display technology. The Ministry's initiative is flexible, explained Novaled Chief Technology Officer Jan Blochwitz-Nimoth.

"There's now a strong network inside Germany to propose good projects which will be technically interesting and, from an economic point of view, should be able to generate a lot of jobs afterward. That's the mission," Blochwitz-Nimoth said. "There's no directive from the state as to whether it should be focused on general illumination or if it will be specific illuminations. It's open. It can be decided by the companies."

According to Schlie-Roosen, display-related projects are within the scope of funding, though the main emphasis so far is on OLEDs for solid-state lighting and signage applications. Of the roughly €50 million granted so far (the BMBF plans to add the other €50 million it has promised over the next two years after another call for projects), non-display-related projects account for about €40 million.

Earlier in September, Germany gained another valuable resource for OLED development in the Joint Innovation Lab (JIL), a research laboratory opened by chemical company BASF for organic electronics in Ludwigshafen. While unrelated to the OLED initiative, the JIL will facilitate many of the same goals. BASF created the JIL with the intention of conducting research with academic and industrial partners into new materials for organic electronics and strengthening Germany's position in the field.

"In our opinion, the importance of the laboratory lies in communication between the companies and institutions that work there together," said Schlie-Roosen. "There are a lot of key issues in OLED technology that block the road for a broad commercial breakthrough, e.g., to find a stable deep-blue-emitting material or a robust encapsulation technology. These key issues cannot likely be overcome by a single institution alone. The joint innovation lab is regarded as a good example of this philosophy."

— Jessica Quandt

CDT and Partners Develop Metal Deposition Process for Flexible P-OLEDs

CAMBRIDGE, U.K. – Cambridge Display Technology (CDT) has begun work on a collaborative metal-deposition project using polymer organic-light-emitting-diode (P-OLED) technology that the company says will provide an alternative to ink-jet printing of flexible displays.

CDT is working on the project with U.K.-based companies Conductive Inkjet Technology (CIT), a subsidiary of technical plastic product specialist Carlco, and Exitech, a supplier of laser-processing equipment. Their efforts focus on the development of a process to deposit very thin, high-conductivity metal tracks onto glass and plastic substrates using lasers to expose selected material. CDT claims the process can result in resolutions of less than 5 μm.

According to an Electronics Weekly report, one key element of the project is a UV-curable catalyst developed by CIT that allows metal to be plated onto glass or plastic. The tracks can reportedly be made as thin as 50 μm, though the maximum conductivity in the tracks has not yet been determined.

"This interesting project could have important implications for the development of next-generation displays," CDT CEO Dr. David Fyfe said in a company statement. "We look forward to being able to announce further activity in the field of flexible displays."

CDT did not reveal the amount of funding for the project but said partial funding is coming from the UK's Department of Trade and Industry (DTI). The company expects to report the outcome of the project by mid-2007.

— Jessica Quandt

Flextronics Enters Small-Sized LCD Market with Acquisition of IDW

SINGAPORE and ROSEVILLE, Calif. – Looking to stake its claim in the growing market for small-sized displays, Singapore electronics manufacturer Flextronics announced on Sept. 5 its acquisition of California-based liquid-crystal-display (LCD) manufacturerInternational Display Works (IDW) for about $300 million in stock.

Flextronics, an electronics manufacturing-services provider to industries including the consumer digital and mobile OEM markets, had been a customer of IDW, a manufacturer and designer specializing in miniature LCD modules for cell phones, MP3 players, and industrial and commercial products, according to IDW CFO Joe Bedewi. In 2005, the two companies began discussions as to how a merger could help each company accomplish its goals.

"Over time, it became pretty abundantly clear that the synergy of Flextronics' strategy for vertical integration and our strategy for vertical integration, our management styles, and some of our segments of business combined made total sense. So we fit right in line with their component strategy in terms of optimizing their vertical integration, getting more of their bill of materials," Bedewi explained. "The two companies have great synergies around what we sell. They sell cameras – they put a camera module together, and we can sell the LCDs. They're very synergistic."

While IDW will lend Flextronics its name, products and existing business relationships in the field of small-sized LCDs, Bedewi said, having Flextronics as a parent company will boost IDW's global footprint and scale. A representative for Flextronics declined to comment beyond the company's press release.

According to industry-research group DisplaySearch, revenues for TFT-LCDs for mobile phones alone will reach more than $11 billion this year. By 2010, revenue is expected to surpass $17 billion. IDW has also set its sights on digital cameras in an attempt to increase its share of the $20 billion small-sized display market, of which IDW currently makes up less than 1%. The majority of IDW's current business is supplying cell-phone displays, Bedewi said.

Flextronics plans to keep IDW's three manufacturing facilities in China operational and will shift as much of its own LCD sourcing to the company as possible, Flextronics said. The company will combine IDW's LCD operations with its own Camera Module Group, TV tuner, and Wi-Fi and TFT-module assembly operations to create a new business unit within Flextronics' Components division. The two companies expect the acquisition to close in the fourth calendar quarter of this year.

— Jessica Quandt

Display Briefs

SED, Inc., the surface-conduction electron-emitter display company formed by Toshiba Corp. and Canon, Inc., in 2004, has begun construction on its first production line at its Himeji Operations site in Hyogo prefecture, Japan. SED Inc. anticipates limited availability by July 2007, with higher volumes scheduled for the fourth quarter of 2007.

Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd., released a new liquid-crystal-display (LCD) TV using a light-emitting-diode (LED) backlight in early September, as well as two new LCD TVs realizing full-high-definition (HD) resolution.

Royal Philips Electronics will begin production in Q1 2007 at a new light-emitting-diode (LED) manufacturing facility in Singapore, the company announced on Sept. 5. The facility should reach its full production capacity by the end of 2007, according to a company statement. Philips will use the plant to produce high volumes of its LUXEON® power LEDs, which are used for applications including liquid-crystal displays (LCDs).

Planar Systems, Inc. announced on Sept. 20 it would add 11 new channel partners to its North American network. The company plans to add another five in the coming months and to achieve full coverage of North America by the end of the year.

3M announced on Sept. 8 it had agreed to acquire Credence Technologies, Inc., at an undisclosed price. Credence, based in Soquel, Calif., is a provider of instruments and high-end monitoring equipment for electrostatic discharge (ESD) control and electromagnetic compliance. ESD control has become increasingly important in the manufacturing of small electrical components as well as semiconductors and FPDs because it maximizes yields and protects component assemblies from damage, said 3M Spokesperson Matthew P. Fagan. 3M now hopes to expand its ESD presence in both Asia and Europe. The growing number of factories in Asia lends the region an inherent demand for ESD control, and Europe has recently started down the same road, Fagan pointed out.