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LED Suppliers to Accelerate Their Expansion into Niche Markets in 2017, TrendForce Says

Published: Dec 13,2016

The value of the global LED market is estimated to grow 3.4% annually to US$14.8 billion in 2016, according to LEDinside, a division of TrendForce. The LED industry will again be under tremendous competitive pressure in 2017, and participants will need to accelerate their entries into more profitable niche markets such as fine-pitch LED displays, UV LEDs and IR LEDs. LEDinside forecasts that the value of the global LED market will total US$15.4 billion, up 4% from 2016.

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“The projected growth in LED market value for this year is marginal, but the industry has witness some major changes,” said Roger Chu, research director of LEDinside. “The surge in demand for fine-pitch LED displays has caused a general tightening of chip supply. As a result, some chip and package products have seen price hikes for the first time in five years.”

Chu also pointed out that rising prices for hard commodities such as copper and aluminum during the second half of 2016 have also led to significant price hikes for LED lighting products. “LED lighting vendors have adjusted their prices to reflect the increase in material costs,” said Chu. “The actual contribution of this wave of price increases to the vendors’ profits is limited.” Since the general state of the LED lighting market remains weak, LED suppliers are actively developing strategies to transform their businesses and accelerate their entries into the blue ocean niche markets.

Traditional LED display makers shifted much of their development efforts towards fine-pitch LED displays through 2016 as consumers demand better image quality from these products. “LED display makers’ focus on fine-pitch LED displays has resulted in a several-fold increase in LED usage volume,” said Chu. “And many Chinese LED package suppliers have undertaken capacity expansion just to capture a share of this market.”

However, this scramble has also generated intense pricing competition. To avoid getting trapped in a price war, suppliers will have to improve their product specifications and make packages more compact. Currently, fine-pitch LED displays with pitches measuring 1.5mm and less constitute a market segment where LED suppliers are not under pressure to lower their prices.

UV-C LEDs are another emerging market with a lot of blue ocean opportunities. “Deep UV has sterilization and purification features that would be useful in many application areas, including home appliances, water treatment, air purification and so on,” said Chu.

While there is high demand for UV-C LEDs, there are challenges in developing this market. UV-C LED chips are currently very expensive and have low external quantum efficiency. Also, application development for UV-C LEDs used to be mainly led by research institutions based in Japan, Europe and the U.S. These organizations came up with solutions that could not achieve economies of scales. Nonetheless, more LED suppliers are starting to see the importance of UV-C LED products and investing more in developing related applications. The industry’s contribution therefore will speed up the growth of the UV-C LED market in the near future.

IR LED is a relatively mature technology and offers inexpensive solutions in many application areas. Iris recognition sensors and motion sensors for virtual reality devices, for instances, are two of many newly emerged applications that provide lucrative opportunities for IR LED suppliers. Vertical-cavity surface-emitting laser (VCSEL) is another related technology that has gained greater market interest in recent years. Chu noted that VCSEL is now featured in handheld devices and sensor equipment related to the Internet of Vehicles.

“The expansion of applications for IR LEDs depends on the willingness of end-system integrators to adopt them,” said Chu. “Successful adoption of IR LEDs in turn is based on the values that they can add to different devices and equipment.”

Micro-LED is a next-generation display technology that has the potential to overtake OLED in the future. While major branded companies in various industries have begun to invest in this technology, it will be some time before micro-LED can supplant TFT LCD and OLED solutions that are now available on the market. At the same time, there are many other advanced display technologies that are in the race with micro-LED to achieve commercialization and mass production.

Branded companies that are intent to releasing micro-LED products have developed market positioning plans and applications that would set this technology apart from LCD or OLED. Furthermore, they are working to find the right trade-off between pixel volume and pixel density (as expressed in pixel per inch or PPI) so they can begin mass production as quickly as possible.

Therefore, micro-LED displays that will soon hit the market can either have high pixel volume or high PPI but not both together. LEDinside anticipates that devices featuring micro-LED displays will arrive on the market in 2017 at the earliest.

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