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Organic Thin Film Transistor 2016: Flexible Displays and Other Applications

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couv Flyer OTFT

Are OTFTs ready to disrupt the display industry and enable fully-flexible devices?


When trying to build a flexible display panel, the Thin Film Transistor (TFT) matrix is one of the most challenging and fragile functional layers.

Interest in OTFT emerged in the mid-2000s when mobility reached values similar to amorphous silicon (a-Si), the dominant display backplane technology. This triggered a flurry of activity at leading display manufacturers, and prototypes rapidly emerged. Besides fast-improving electrical performance, OTFT’s intrinsic flexibility made the technology ideal for the realization of flexible displays. In 2007, the first ever flexible AMOLED panel was demonstrated by Sony and featured an organic TFT.
However, interest waned as performance and homogeneity issues persisted, and other TFT technologies like LTPS and metal oxide emerged.

Nevertheless, organic semiconductor companies kept perfecting their molecules and ink formulations, gaining a better understanding of the interaction between the materials, the transistor structure, and the manufacturing process. Consequently, performance in the lab improved by another order of magnitude. Combined with the explosive growth of flexible displays and the promise of a cost-efficient, solution-based manufacturing process, interest in OTFT has renewed.

Panel makers remain cautious, but a handful in Taiwan and China are currently attempting to retrofit older Gen 2.5 - 4.5 fabs with OTFT. These first attempts to move OTFT into mass production will be critical for the technology’s future. Failure in these initial industrialization attempts could be fatal for the OTFT industry, or, at the very least, set it back many years. However, if OTFT proves that it can be mass produced and enables panel makers to revive those obsolete fabs with high-margin flexible displays, there are no fundamental barriers prohibiting the technology from being quickly scaled up to fabs Gen 8 or above, and possibly challenge the vast market for traditional a-Si based panels like LCD TV, monitors, etc. In the long-term, because they are inherently solution-processable, OTFTs are also an ideal backplane candidate for additive manufacturing and fully printed displays.

This report presents a detailed review of flexible displays, including an analysis of technical challenges (frontplane, backplane, substrates), manufacturing status, key players, and technologies.
This report also provides a complete review of established TFT backplane technologies.

3graphs OTFT 1



The display panel industry tends to require high capex in order to generate fairly low margins. Companies are therefore relatively conservative when it comes to switching to new TFT. They look for technologies that:

• Are highly compatible with existing process and equipment.
• Generate higher margins than the incumbent technology by allowing higher added-value products (OLED, flexible displays) and/or reduced manufacturing costs.

Organic semiconductor suppliers have realized that success means offering turnkey solutions comprising the full material stack, and processes as compatible as possible with old a-Si equipment. This means photo-patternable, cross-linkable materials that can be processed with existing broadband lithography tools already present in the fab, and which can withstand traditional patterning and etching techniques.
In the short-term, this puts significant stress on companies that started as small teams of organic materials experts. These companies now must access additional capital and set up partnerships in order to access fab equipment and develop a full process toolbox.
However, in the long-term this will permit surviving companies to capture more added-value than by simply supplying the channel material.

This report presents a detailed analysis of OTFT, including benefits, challenges, performance status, and roadmaps. Additionally, this report provides an analysis of OTFT manufacturing (technologies, structure, etc.), cost of ownership, and competitive landscape (i.e. supply chain, OSC suppliers). Company profiles for key players are also included.

3graphs OTFT 2



OTFT mobility in the lab now exceeds 10 cm2/vs, with record values up to 40 cm2/vs, theoretically good enough to drive all display types and compete with all TFT technologies. But while these results are a good indication of the progress made with organic semiconductors, they have been obtained in conditions far from practical in actual fabs and commercial devices. Current realistic fab-level performance stands in the range of 1 - 2 cm2/vs, with a credible path toward 3 - 5 cm2/vs over the next 18 months - 3 years, and possibly 10 cm2/vs and above within 5 - 10 years.

At the current level, OTFTs are already superior to the dominant a-Si platform and enable a whole new range of very cost-effective, flexible electrophoretic and LCD displays with a bending radius as low as 30 mm. Not exactly “foldable”, but flexible enough to conform to curved surfaces in all application types, such as embedded displays in automotive, consumer appliances, and digital signage. These displays also feature reduced weight and thickness and improved ruggedness from their plastic-based construction. The aforementioned applications could become a stepping stone for OTFT, allowing panel makers to validate and optimize the technology in their Gen 2.5 - 4.5 fabs and prepare to scale up to larger substrates while material suppliers fine-tune their molecules to reach performance sufficient to drive mid-pixel density OLEDs. This would unlock a whole new range of applications by enabling cost-effective manufacturing of low power consumption, fully flexible displays for wearable and mobile applications. From there, it remains to be seen if performance will further improve in order to serve the high-end OLED market, or if OTFT can deliver on its cost-effectiveness promises. If so, OTFT could become a credible alternative to a-Si in the manufacture of large LCD panels, enabling higher resolution and higher brightness - features that are critical to the UHD TV market’s emergence.

This report focuses on OTFT display applications and the associated market volume for the period 2016 – 2022, broken down in 13 segments. Moreover, this report provides an analysis of market volume and revenue for organic semiconductors (OSC) and gate insulators (i.e.: OGI). Our forecasts have been developed on the basis of different scenarios, taking into account potential future technology breakthroughs (i.e. printing process, vertical transistors).

3graphs OTFT 3 

Objectives of the Report

This report provides a full analysis of the status and prospects for organic thin film transistors (OTFT) for displays and other applications:

  • Main challenges for producing flexible displays
  • TFT backplanes: technology review, capacity analysis, potential for flexible displays
  • OTFTs: technology roadmap, SWOT analysis, manufacturing challenges, OTFT in the fab
  • Application: pros and cons of OTFT for each segment, application roadmap, penetration forecast
  • 2017 - 2022 forecast: total OTFT surface (m2), channel and gate dielectric volumes (kg) and revenue (US$M), ASP forecast



Table of contents

> About the authors
> Who should be interested in this report
> Report objectives
> Report scope
> Companies cited in this report


Glossary & display fundamentals p12


> Definitions and acronyms
> Display application trends and requirements
> Evolution of display substrate sizes
> Display substrates example - gen 10
> Display resolutions
> Display structure overview


Executive summary p19

> The two-page summary - panel industry perspective
> Overview of TFT channel materials
> Pros and cons
> Backplane technologies vs. applications
> Status of the display backplane industry
> TFT capacity breakdown
> TFT capacity forecast
> Potential for organic TFT (OTFT)
> OTFT technology status
> OTFT performance - hype vs. reality
> OTFT status - EPD and OLCD
> Mid-PPI flexible AMOLED for wearable and embedded displays
> High-end AMOLED and true flexibility?
> Conclusions - OTFT’s potential
> OTFT application scorecard
> OTFT application roadmap
> Display market - panel consumption through 2022
> OTFT adoption - standard scenario
> OTFT adoption - aggressive scenario
> Comparisons
> Overview of TFT backplane technologies and market p55
> Active and passive matrix
> TFT and OLED pixel structures
> TFT current
> Specific challenges for AMOLED backplanes
> Conclusions
> TFT channel materials
> Factors of merits for various TFT channel materials
> Mobility vs. display specifications
> TFT technologies vs. applications
> TFT backplane technologies - pros and cons
> TFT supply and demand
> 2016 geographic breakdown
> Amorphous silicon trends
> Metal oxide trends
> LTPS and organic TFT trends



Flexible displays - Overview and technical challenges p73


> Definition
> Introduction
> Potential benefits
> Display structure
> Challenges for flexible displays
> Technology bricks for flexible displays
> Flexible display - roadmap
> Commercial status
> What’s coming next?
Flexible displays - Manufacturing status p86
> Overview
> Flexible OLED capacity expansion plans
> Flexible EPD status
> Frontplanes for flexible displays p91
> Frontplane candidates for flexible displays
> E-papers - electrophoretic and cholesteric LCD
> Flexible LCD
> Flexible OLED
> Examples
> Focus on Japan Display Corporation
> Focus on JOLED
> Focus on Sony
> Focus on Sharp
> Substrates for flexible displays p108
> Requirements
> Major flexible substrate types
> Substrate materials
> Substrates vs. TFT process temperature
> Flexible substrate processing
> Roughness and planarization
> De-bonding
> Material trends



Backplanes for flexible displays p118

> Introduction
> Candidates for foldable displays
> Technology strategies for flexible backplanes
> Amorphous silicon
> Amorphous silicon for flexible displays
> Low-temperature polysilicon (LTPS)
> LTPS for flexible displays
> Commercial flexible LTPS displays
> Metal oxides

> Benefits of IGZO TFT vs. a-Si

> Evolution of IGZO technology at Sharp
> Other metal oxide TFT - overview
> Focus on CBRITE
> Metal oxides for flexible displays
> Illustration - LG 18” flexible display
> Illustration - SEL flexible OLED technology
> Solution-processed oxide
> Other TFT - amorphous metal non-linear resistor (AMNR)
> Printed dopant polysilicon (PDPS)
> Graphene and carbon nanotubes



Focus on organic TFTs p143

> Overview

> Potential benefits
> Organic TFT and true flexibility
> Small molecules vs. polymers
> Performance - hype vs. reality
> Pixel density and channel length
> Frequency cut-off
> Discussion
> TFT performance vs. application mapping
> OTFT applications roadmap
> Illustrations
> OTFT for LCD displays
> OTFT for e-paper
> Organic TFT manufacturing p167
> Major OTFT technology bricks
> OTFT structure - top gate vs. bottom gate
> Detailed OTFT structure
> Crystallization control (small molecules)
> Example - SmartKem
> Interface engineering & material choices
> Patterning and compatibility with TFT fabs
> Illustration - patterning
> Process flow example (photolithography)
> Discussion
> Conclusions



Organic TFT cost of ownership p179

> Key benefits

> Requirements for mass production
> Bill of material
> Cost of ownership - overview
> Cost of ownership - SmartKem



Organic TFT volume and revenue forecast p187

> Methodology

> Display panel market
> Applications segment SWOT



Organic TFT forecast - Base scenario p193

> EPD (and other reflective/passive technologies)

> Wearables
> Mobile phones
> Embedded displays - automotive and transportation
> Embedded displays - others
> Tablet, laptops, and convertibles
> Digital signage
> Monitors and TV - AMOLED
> Monitors and TV - LCD
> OTFT adoption trends - summary
> OTFT application roadmap
> Volume and price hypothesis (OSC and gate insulator)
> OSC and OGI - 2016 - 2022 volume and revenue forecast
> Discussion - aggressive scenarios



Technology breakthrough scenario #1 - Printing process p215

> Overview
> Illustrations
> Key hypothesis
> Results
> Technology breakthrough scenario #2 - Vertical transistors p220
> Introduction
> Vertical OFET
> Vertical organic light-emitting transistor (VOLET)
> Potential market impact
> Price and consumption hypothesis
> Conclusion
Scenario comparison and conclusions p229
> Scenario comparisons
> OSC and OGI revenue scenario
> Conclusion
> End-game scenario


Non-display applications p235

> Introduction

> Smart tags
> Thin film electronics
> Sensors and imager arrays - ISORG


Organic TFT supply chain p242

> OSC suppliers
> Supply chain
> Fab activity


Selected company profiles p251

> SmartKem
> Merck - EMD
> Polyera
> Neudrive


Appendix - OLED display structure and key technologies p265

> OLED operating principle
> OLED frontplane structure overview
> Full AMOLED display structure (TFT + frontplane)
> RGB OLED vs. white OLED
> Top and bottom OLED pixel structures
> TFT and OLED pixel structures
> Summary - OLED pixel structures
> Discussion
> Expected technology evolution



Companies cited

Ares Materials
AU Optronics
Cambridge Display Technology
CEC Panda
Chunghwa Picture Tube
Dupont Teijin
Everdisplay Corporation
Japan Display
Konika Minolta

LG Displays
Mitsubishi Chemical
New Vision
Nippon Kayaku
Plastic Logic
Seiko Epson
Solip Technology
Sumitomo Bakelite
ThinFilm electronics
Tokyo Electron
and more


























  • Flexible displays: benefits, challenges, roadmap, technologies (frontplanes, backplanes and substrates)

  • Backplanes for flexible displays: a-Si, LTPS, metal-oxide, OTFT

  • OTFT performance roadmap, challenges, cost of ownership, progress toward the fab, SWOT analysis

  • OTFT application roadmaps: detailed segment analysis (wearable, mobile, laptops & tablets, TV & monitors, automotive & embedded displays, digital signage, e-readers)

  • OTFT materials volume and revenue forecast through 2022