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In actuality, Taiwan began to enter into OLED panel manufacturing very early on. As early as 2002, the Taiwanese company RiTdisplay began to mass produce small-size monochrome OLED panels, and their technology originated from the Kodak and Dupont companies. At the time the technology that they used was PMOLED. Furthermore, Samsung did not begin to mass produce full color AMOLED panels until 2007.
Although they entered into manufacturing very early, due to the influences of insufficient markets and capital, in the end Taiwan never created a mature and leading OLED industry chain. However, through a wave of restructuring in the industry the number of companies in the supply chain has shrunk from ten companies to five companies.
AMOLED Display Technology
In the domain of Active-matrix organic light-emitting diode (AMOLED) technology, Taiwanese companies got off to a late start, and they currently lag behind South Korean companies in efficiency and production capacity. In addition their main applications are concentrated in small and medium sized products, such as smart phones, smart watches, and newly-emerging VR displays. A portion of these companies also hope to create products for use in vehicle information systems.
Compared to PMOLED, AMOLED has a higher reaction speed and significantly lower power consumption. The color saturation and resolution is also more prominent in AMOLED displays. Hence, AMOLED is extremely suitable for power-sensitive portable electronic devices with high display quality.
In addition, TFT back panel technology is the key to manufacturing AMOLED screens, and two major TFT back panel technologies: polycrystaline silicon and amorphous silicon are already utilized in AMOLED.
AU Optronics Corporation (AUO)
After purchasing Toshiba Mobile Display (TMD) in 2010 and intellectual property related to LTPS, TFT, and LCD manufacturers in Singapore, AUO officially commenced preparations for AMOLED production capacity and technology.
AUO is currently has a 3.5 generation AMOLED factory in Linkou, Taiwan and a 4.5 generation plant in Singapore. With a total combined production capacity of 45,000 units, AUO has the largest production capacity of any AMOLED manufacturer in Taiwan. Their main domains are smart phones, smart watches, and new and burgeoning VR products. AUO's product shipments for these applications are also increasing.
In terms of technological development, AUO first launched a 5.7 inch cell phone panel in 2014 with a resolution of WQHD (2,560 X 1,440, 513ppi). This year they will launch a 12.3 FHD display panel for use in automobiles, and they are striving to develop small-sized smart watch panels and VR display products.
Currently AUO already has 1.5 and 1.6 inch high-resolution square AMOLED panels and 1.2 and 1.4 inch round panels. The circular AMOLED panels are equipped with the following features: ultra-narrow frames, high resolution, and low power consumption. Furthermore, their special cutting method and driver IC circuit design enables their constant standby time to be over two times longer than for other smart watches. In addition, they have up to 423 Ppl (pixels) and high colors and high contrast which are designed for VR head mounted displays.
Optimistic about the flexible display market, AUO will also continue to develop flexible AMOLED technology. Their folding AMOLED panel has a thickness of only 0.1 mm and a folding radius of under 4 mm; furthermore, it can be folded over 1 million times.
InnoLux is another major Taiwanese LCD panel supplier which is also a member of the Hon Hai Group.
Originally InnoLux established in 2003 and publicly listed in 2006. The company merged with Chi Mei Optoelectronics and Toppoly Optoelectronics in March 2010, in what was the largest merger in the flat panel display industry. Chimei Innolux Corporation was the successor company, and it initially preserved the Chimei name. In order to differentiate itself from the ChiMei brand, the company was renamed "Innolux Corporation" in December 2012.
Although they have AMOLED production technology, they have not started to truly implement mass production and sales. It was not until Apple announced that the iPhone may utilize AMOLED panels that InnoLux began preparations for the mass production of AMOLED panels.
InnoLux's AMOLED technology was acquired through a merger with Toppoly Optoelectronics Ltd. (TPO) in October 2009. TPO had published their own design and manufacturing for 2.5-inch AMOLED panels and were the first Taiwanese company to begin developing 7-inch AMOLED panel factories.
After acquiring TPO, InnoLux also acquired AMOLED production technology and continues to carry out research and development. On the other hand, InnoLux has also prepared for IGZO manufacturing, and thanks to the close relationship between their parent company Hon Hai and Sharp, the AMOLEX panels manufactured by InnoLux were capable of being integrated with IGZO technology.
In 2015 InnoLux showcased 7.6-inch and 4.3-inch products which included ultra-thin, flexible, and curved designs. At the Touch Taiwan 2016 exhibition, InnoLux showcased a 5.5-inch flexible AMOLED panel with WQHD resolution and a 12.3-inch high-brightness automotive panel. In addition, InnoLux claims that in 2018 they will mass produce 4.5-inch OLED panel products with their production base in Taiwan.
Chunghwa Picture Tubes (CPT)
In the TFT-LCD panel market CPT would be considered a second line manufacturer which mainly produces small and medium sized panels. Currently CPT has two 4.5-generation factories and a newly-built 6-generation factory in Putian, Fujian Province, Mainland China. They are estimating that in January 2017 they will install equipment to begin mass production in June 2017 of OLED panels.
CPT did not develop OLED technology early on, and it was not until 2015 that they begin to enter into OLED research and development.
Their OLED technology is mainly authorized from Taiwan's Industrial Technology Research Institute. Furthermore, they are engaged in a technological partnership with FlexEnable Ltd and will invest in the production of full-color flexible AMOLED displays. Currently, they have already successfully produced lit 6-inch transparent AMOLED and 4.75-inch Flexible AMOLED panels.
CPT pointed out that FlexEnable's product is the world's first Organic TFT (OTFT) driven “full color” flexible AMOLED display. It's main technological foundation is the use of FlexEnable's OTFT low temperature manufacturing and CPT's OLED technology to produce an ultra-thin display with a thickness of only 0.125mm at 60 Hz.
In addition to their collaboration with FlexEnable, CPT also developed panels in cooperation with Hoist which were showcased at the Touch Taiwan 2016 exhibition.
Industrial Technology Research Institute (ITRI)
Taiwan's Industrial Technology Research Industry is an official technology research and development unit, which develops a wide variety of technologies, one of which is OLED. The organization has invested in R&D for OLED technology for several years and has numerous OLED related patents in Taiwan and has made considerable progress with flexible display applications.
Because ITRI is an official organization, they are not engaged in the mass production and sales of products. They instead provide Taiwanese companies with technological patents or establish new companies. The form collaborations and licensing with Taiwanese display companies, which include AU and CPT.
At the Touch Taiwan 2016 exhibition ITRI showcased a series of OLED flexible panel materials including a 350◦C non-yellowing flexible transparent substrate, a high-density OLED touch with high heat-resistant transparent fill layer material, and a folding anti-scratch super wear-resistant protective layer for OLED panels.
FlexUP Technologies Corp. is a start-up company, which originated at ITRI, and they have developed a FlexUPTM technology which is the only multipurpose flexible electronic substrate that can be used in AMOLED displays. In 2010 ITRI won the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) Gold award and the R&D100 award.
PMOLED Display Technology
The structure of PMOLED is simpler that the structure of AMOLED, and the production cost is also lower. In addition, it does not require the use of TFT manufacturing. Although the resolution, reaction speed, and color are not as good as in AMOLED displays, it still has the advantages of high brightness, low power consumption and being light weight.
PMOLED is primarily used in 6 inches and below sized displays, and is single or double colored in 3 inches and below sized displays. Therefore, currently small and medium sized wearable products and CNC products still mainly use PMOLED. To date the main PMOLED suppliers in Taiwan are RiTdisplay and WiseChip Semiconductor.
RiTdisplay is is the first Taiwanese company to invest in OLED R&D and manufacturing. They are also the world's first large capacity PMOLED production line manufacturer, and they occupy 24.8% of the market.
RiTdisplay currently has a monthly production capacity of 15,000 PMOLED units, and in 2017 they are expected to increase their production capacity by 20%-40%. Their main products are for 2-inch and below applications and their goal is to replace the STN market.
Ye Chui-jing, CEO of RiTdisplay, had said that even though there is only a NT$10 price difference from STM, the scope of PMOLED applications is broader and can be used for wearable, consumer, home, communications, medical, industrial, automotive, military, and lighting applications. Furthermore, PMOLED's color performance, energy saving, and flexibility are superior to STV, and replacing STN became a trend early on.
RiTdisplay anticipates mass producing round AMOLED panels in the second half of 2016. They also anticipate beginning to mass produce flexible PMOLED panels in the second half of 2017 and then soft and hard PMOLED lighting panels with adjustable colors.
WiseChip Semiconductor is the world's second largest PMOLED provider, and their products are small and medium sized 6-inch and below PMOLED display modules which are mainly used for wearable devices, vehicles, and smart watches.
WiseChip is the first company to mass produce character type PMOLED using COG packaging with the first single IC integrated built-in font libraries that are capable of displaying fonts and multiple languages.
They currently have 2 and 2.5 generation lines with a monthly production capacity of 14,000 units. In 2016 WiseChip built a new PMOLED production line in Zhunan, Taiwan. They estimate that they will initiate trial production in Q4 and formally begin production in 2017.
In addition, in 2016 WiseChip launched 0.33-inch to 1.54-inch standard panel integrations, circular products for use in smart watches, and surface display panels. These include flexible PMOLED surface panels, with a curvature radius that has been reduced from 60mm to under 40mm. They will be able to be used for consumer bracelets, industrial machinery, or medical bracelets, and they are expected to be mass produced and go on the market in Q4, 2016.
At Touch Taiwan 2016, WiseChip showed many types of its TOLED applications, including smartwatches, mobile display and industrial applications. Different from AMOLED, PMOLED has better performance in terms of power consumption and cost, regardless of the slower reaction rate. And with which, PMOLED has its niche market.
According to WiseChip, TOLED means Transparent OLEDs, which can be used for displays in HUD, near eye and even Augmented reality (AR) technology.
(TR/ Phil Sweeney)