MicroLEDs are advancing on all fronts with increasing investment and intellectual property activity, together with many prototypes from large corporations and startups alike presented over the last 12 months.The industry, analyzed in-depth in the two reports, MicroLED Displays and MicroLED Displays IP Landscape from Yole Développement (Yole) and its partner, Knowmade, respectively, is entering a new phase with its first steps out of the lab through various dedicated pilot lines being set up by companies such as PlayNitride or San’an. The microLED supply chain, however, is complex and more distributed than that of traditional display manufacturing. Display makers, LED manufacturers, equipment suppliers and multiple technology startups are in the planning phase and engaged in discussions to set up partnerships and get ready to ramp up manufacturing.
Yole’s display analysts Eric Virey and Zine Bouhamri talked with Matthias Winter, Sr. Director Strategic Programs at Osram Opto Semiconductors (OS), a leading LED manufacturer, about the company’s interests in, and manufacturing strategy for, microLEDs.
Eric Virey (EV): Could you please introduce Osram OS and its activities? And can you detail your responsibilities at Osram OS?
Matthias Winter (MW): Osram OS is one of the world’s leading suppliers of optoelectronic components, such as LEDs, Infrared-LEDs, Edge Emitting Lasers, VCSELs and Photodiodes. I’m strategic program manager and in charge of the microLED program at Osram OS.
EV: What is Osram OS’s role in microLEDs?
MW: With its many years of experience in the field of optoelectronics, Osram OS is about to play a leading role in the development and manufacturing of microLEDs in future. Our teams have the needed know-how and specific expertise in complex but essential LED manufacturing processes like epitaxy, light extraction and transfer technology.
EV: Osram OS has been fairly actively filing for IP in the microLED field. How long have you been working on this application?
MW: We always look closely at innovative technologies, and we’re known as one of the major innovation leaders in the market. We’re convinced that microLEDs will play a major role in various applicative fields. And we’re about to play a big role therein.
EV: What are Osram OS’s strengths and key differentiators for microLED?
MW: I think one of our big advantages is our expertise in LED manufacturing which has been built up over decades, combined with our unique manufacturing infrastructure for all three primary colors. Besides this, we can rely on very close relationships with partners in the industry as well as with universities and research centers.
EV: Osram OS licensed X-Celeprint mass transfer technology back in 2018. Could you elaborate on this collaboration?
MW: We’re always looking for interesting partners and possible acquisitions. We entered into a technology and patent license agreement with X-Celeprint covering the micro transfer printing technology.
Zine Bouhamri (ZB): Osram OS also acquired Pacific Light Technologies for their quantum dots capability. Do you foresee a possible application for microLEDs and, if so, what kinds of challenges are you facing?
MW: In general, Quantum Dots offer a great variety of options for us in providing semiconductor-based lighting and sensing solutions. Quantum Dots, together with microLEDs, can play a vital role regarding color conversion. The acquisition of PLT helps us to improve our knowledge and understanding of those nanoparticles for use in future applications.
ZB: The Kulim fab is viewed by the industry as one of the most advanced III-V compound semiconductor fabs. Could you describe its specificities (e.g.: wafer size, automation, type of tools, clean room, upgradability etc.)?
MW: The fab is located in the Kulim Hi-Tech Park, a relatively new industrial estate in the south-east of the Malaysian state of Kedah. It occupies 100,000m² (48 acres) and is just a short distance from the Company’s sister factory in Penang. The fab uses modern tools and brings together all of the production steps involved in chip manufacturing under one roof.
ZB: Depending on the application, microLED might require die size as small as 5 um or less. Could you elaborate on how “microLED-ready” are Osram OS fabs? What type of additional equipment and investment (clean rooms, steppers, etc.) might be required for the different chip sizes (note: our analysis is that existing tier-1 LED fabs could produce chip sizes down to 10-15 um pending limited additional upgrades, but below 10 um would require much more significant investments or even a dedicated greenfield fab).
MW: Overall, a variety of adjustments to the existing LED infrastructure are required to design and manufacture highly efficient and highly reliable microLEDs. Detailed assessments are yet to be made.
ZB: When do you expect microLED displays to hit the market and for which applications?
MW: We think it will still take some years before production of microLEDs really hits sizeable volumes. It’s hard to say which application will first be equipped with microLEDs – always also depending on customers. When power efficiency, contrast, dimming range and lifetime are crucial to applications, we see a great interest in microLED technology.
ZB: What role and positioning in the supply chain are you anticipating for Osram OS? Are you collaborating with other partners on this issue?
MW: Regarding possible collaborations we’re currently evaluating various options. An interesting and exciting cooperation in this field is the research project “smartVIZ”, where we work together with different partners in microLEDs for the use in automotive interior visualization applications.
Matthias Winter is Senior Director, Strategic Programs, at Osram Opto Semiconductors. During his career, Matthias has developed significant expertise in the field of LED technologies as well as extensive industrial know-how. Matthias holds two MBA degrees, from the University of Pittsburg Katz Graduate School of Business and the University of Augsburg.
As a Technology & Market Analyst, Displays, Zine Bouhamri, PhD is a member of the Photonics, Sensing & Display division at Yole Développement (Yole).
Zine manages the day to day production of technology & market reports, as well as custom consulting projects. He is also deeply involved in the business development of the Displays unit activities at Yole.
Previously, Zine was in charge of numerous R&D programs at Aledia. During more than three years, he developed strong technical expertise as well as a detailed understanding of the display industry.
Zine is author and co-author of several papers and patents.
Zine Bouhamri holds an Electronics Engineering Degree from the National Polytechnic Institute of Grenoble (France), one from the Politecnico di Torino (Italy), and a Ph.D. in RF & Optoelectronics from Grenoble University (France).
Eric Virey, PhD serves as a Senior Market and Technology Analyst at Yole Développement (Yole), within the Photonic & Sensing & Display division. Eric is a daily contributor to the development of LED, OLED, and Displays activities, with a large collection of market and technology reports as well as multiple custom consulting projects. Thanks to its deep technical knowledge and industrial expertise, Eric has spoken in more than 30 industry conferences worldwide over the last 5 years. He has been interviewed and quoted by leading media over the world. Previously Eric has held various R&D, engineering, manufacturing and business development positions with Fortune 500 Company Saint-Gobain in France and the United States. Eric Virey holds a PhD in Optoelectronics from the National Polytechnic Institute of Grenoble.
Significant progress over the last 18 months, but many challenges remain before ramping up for large volume consumer applications.
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