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OLED growth spurs spending spree

Raw materials producers expand facilities, boost R&D, and acquire assets

by Jean-François Tremblay
February 9, 2017 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 95, Issue 7

Photo of small bottles bearing a Universal Display label and contain phosphorescent powder.
Credit: Universal Display
Universal Display’s phosphorescent materials are used to make OLED displays.

Encouraged by aggressive capacity expansion among manufacturers of organic light-emitting diode (OLED) displays, suppliers of display raw materials are proceeding with investments of their own.

Universal Display will spend $15 million to double production capacity for phosphorescent OLED emitters at PPG Industries’ plant in Barberton, Ohio. PPG has been providing contract manufacturing services to New Jersey-based Universal since 2000. Fitted with a clean room, the Barberton plant makes organometallic emitter molecules that feature an iridium metal complex.

Separately, Samsung-owned Novaled has started constructing a $21 million R&D facility and company headquarters in Dresden, Germany. Novaled claims its materials—organic dopants—are present in most of the world’s OLED displays.

In Switzerland, Idemitsu Kosan is setting up an OLED materials R&D center that will employ researchers from BASF, with which Idemitsu has been collaborating. The Japanese company is a technology leader in blue emitters. Creating blue remains challenging for materials suppliers because blue OLED materials convert energy less efficiently.

Also in Switzerland, BASF has acquired the display materials supplier Rolic. Employing 110 people, Rolic is a technology leader in photoalignment materials and films used in the production of OLED displays and liquid-crystal displays (LCDs), BASF claims.

Although OLED displays are not as commercially prominent as LCDs, the market has been growing rapidly in recent years for phones and TVs. Tadashi Uno, a senior analyst at the consulting firm IHS Technology, expects production of active matrix OLED displays—the type used in smartphones—to surpass 10 million m2 by 2019, four times what it was in 2015.

Uno warns that growth is hard to predict from one year to the next. In the near term, much depends on whether Apple adopts OLED technology for its next generation of iPhones.

Nonetheless, display producers are expanding aggressively. LG Display announced last month that it will invest $4.3 billion this year to increase OLED display production. Meanwhile, Samsung Display is spending more than $4 billion on OLED display plants.



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