Innovation to Avoid Commoditization in Displays – Why LG invested $900 Million in OLEDs

Five years ago LCD panel makers in Taiwan, Japan and Korea saw margins squeezed as LCD manufacturing geared up in China ― resulting in severe price competition. It meant that many LCD panel makers could no longer be profitable, with particularly heavy losses in Japan and Taiwan as Chinese suppliers emerged into the top five leader list by shipments. The effect: Restructuring, and increased investments (where it was possible) in innovation to differentiate and stay ahead. That meant 3D TV, Ultra High Definition displays, OLEDs and quantum dots.

OLEDs to Repeat LCDs?
OLEDs have been relatively successful in small and tablet-sized displays so far, and next year several Chinese companies are due to bring OLED displays to market. That begs the question – will OLEDs repeat history and become LCDs v2.0, offering only a short period of healthy profits for some before margins become squeezed for all?

In July LG announced an investment of $900 million (one trillion Won) to counter just that – by investing in innovation. The money is earmarked for plastic and flexible OLED displays, a step beyond today’s mostly glass-based OLED displays, and will fund a Gen 6 line with production starting in 2017.

Today, Samsung and LG are the top suppliers of OLED displays, mainly for smart phones and other consumer electronics devices with similar sized displays. OLED TV has not been successful quite yet, with Samsung currently seemingly more interested in quantum dot LCD TVs over OLED TV given the current yield and cost issues at large areas.

Plastic OLED displays are thinner and more robust versus glass-based OLEDs, and address the increased market need for devices such as smart watches. For instance, the Apple Watch uses an OLED display on a plastic rather than a glass substrate. Then comes curved displays (as already seen in some products such as phones with curved edges) and flexible displays.

IDTechEx Research forecasts that the market for plastic and flexible AMOLED displays will rise to $16 billion by 2020, as shown below.


Beyond consumer electronics, the automotive industry will also be a strong target market for these displays, as cars feature more electronics and become huge infotainment hubs, where plastic displays are not only lighter but also provide distinguished aesthetics if conformable and very high visual performance.

Who Benefits
Obvious beneficiaries of this investment include relevant material and equipment suppliers, but others involved less directly will also be pleased. For example, curved or flexible displays will require transparent conductive films that can be flexible, particularly for the touch element. That includes companies working on nanowires, metal mesh, carbon nanotubes, PEDOT and other technologies. Then there are those supplying flexible barrier films or barrier film deposition equipment, including (where relevant) appropriate adhesives.

Read the full analysis from IDTechEx Research in our comprehensive report, OLED Display Forecast 2015-2025: the Rise of Plastic and Flexible Displays.

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