Flexible displays next target in China AMOLED venture

Large China display companies prepare for mass manufacture of flexible AMOLED panels for mobile and wearable electronics applications.

February 08, 2017

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Large China display companies prepare for mass manufacture of flexible AMOLED panels for mobile and wearable electronics applications.

After pushing AMOLED to mainstream OLED display production in China, makers are stepping up to flexible kinds, following projections the technology will be standard in high-end mobile electronics in several years. Led by major players, the initiative is expected to yield the first batch this year and reach a bigger volume in 2018.

BOE has invested $6.6 billion in China's first 6G flexible AMOLED panel fabrication. The first phase of mass production will begin in coming months and the next one in 2018, with monthly capacity estimated to hit 48,000 units by the latter period. Output targets use in smartphones and wearable electronics.

Fueling this venture is the anticipated jump in shipments of bendable displays. IHS forecasts a 135 percent increase from 59 million units in 2016 to 139 million this year. This translates to a 20 percent share of the total OLED display market. Smartphones will still be the key growth catalyst, while significant headway in tablet PCs, VR devices, automotive displays and OLED TVs will happen in 2023. By then, aggregate deliveries will hit 560 million flexible panels, according to IHS.

In the overall AMOLED category, facilitating the adoption in mobile electronics is the tight supply of TFT LCDs. This has put the technologies on almost the same cost level, eroding the latter's key advantage and heightening the first's more advanced features. The last includes self-illuminating quality, ultrathin and lightweight form, and high flexibility. Many smartphone manufacturers, including China's Vivo and Oppo, are already planning to shift to AMOLED, while speculations are high that Apple will do the switch in the next iPhone.

In wearable and VR devices, AMOLED displays' market is projected to rise respectively to $9.8 million and $3.8 million in 2019 from $2.8 million and $1.2 million in 2015, according to Electronic Engineering & Product World. By 2019, the global AMOLED sector will be $30.7 billion in scale, swelling 216 percent from 2015, with mobile electronics accounting for more than 90 percent.

By shipment, AMOLED panels will climb from 257 million units in 2015 to 733 million in 2020, and overtake TFT LCDs for the first time.

With such industry outlook, most OLED makers in China have been broadening their production by over 10 percent in recent years and will continue doing so. This has also attracted more companies to join the line. Wuhu Token, a major local ITO film supplier, started to offer OLED panels in 1Q16.

Manufacturers of OLED displays in China gather mainly in the coastal province of Guangdong. They include key player Tianma, which is based in Shenzhen.

BOE is in Chengdu in the southwestern province of Sichuan and Visionox in Beijing.

Industry leaders such as Samsung Display have factories in China as well.

AMOLED, PMOLED displays

China suppliers of OLED panels for mobile electronics applications continue to offer AMOLED and PMOLED types in monochromatic and full-color units. The typical size range remains 0.5 to 5in units in choices of 64x48, 72x32, 128x64 or 96 and 160x128 dots, and with 1,000:1 contrast ratio and over 70cd/sqm brightness. The bulk of releases comply with RoHS requirements.

Shenzhen Boxing World Technology Co. Ltd offers a 5in AMOLED model with 720x1280 pixels and 250cd/sqm for mobile phones, video phones and digital cameras.

Material and component localization has accelerated. Glass substrates are increasing in supply as key homegrown companies such as Dongxu Optoelectronics expand production. Dongxu Optoelectronics is now BOE's major source of the input.

Key materials ITO film, polarizers and chips, however, are still obtained overseas. The rest of the inputs, including OLED materials and adhesives, are imported only when specified.

The cost of manufacturing inputs rose slightly in 2016, resulting in 5 percent higher prices of OLED displays. Most makers are counting on stable levels for both in the next six months.

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