ISS 2007: Hot LCD market poses technology challenges

By Phil LoPiccolo, Editor-in-Chief

The growing consumer appetite for large-area flat-panel displays (FPDs) — particularly for TVs, but also for notebook computers and PC monitors — presents enormous opportunities for FPD makers. But to meet demand they must first overcome some major technological and manufacturing hurdles, according to Jyh Chau Wang, VP of Taiwanese LCD supplier Chi Mei Optoelectronics, speaking at the recent Industry Strategy Symposium (ISS) at Half Moon Bay, CA.

The FPD market will skyrocket over the next five years, with large-area FPD unit shipments averaging an estimated 18% compound annual growth rate (CAGR) from 2005 through 2010, and the number of units sold annually surging to 436 million, said Wang, citing the latest figures from Display Search (see image above). The TV segment will lead the way with a CAGR of 42%, followed by notebooks and PC monitors with 17% and 12% CAGR, respectively.

Much of the FPD growth in the TV market will come at the expense of CRTs. In the next five years, the FPD portion of the display market will grow from 51% to 90%. By 2010 the market will be dominated by LCDs, accounting for more than 70% of the market, while PDP flat panels will comprise another 20%, and CRTs only about 7%.

At the same time, LCD TV screen sizes will continue to grow. In the past, the average size for an LCD TV was about 20 in., explained Wang, but going forward the size will reach what he called a ‘twin peak” — with one peak appearing at approximately 40-49 in. for the mainstream living room TV, and the other at around 32 in., suitable for both the living room and the bedroom (see image below).

Notebook PCs will also fuel demand for FPDs, averaging 17% CAGR through 2010, as prices for notebook models drop and as Intel’s dual-core processor technology helps bridge the performance gap between notebook and desktop systems, said Wang. At the same time, wide-aspect-ratio notebook panels will increase dramatically, from 62% CAGR in 2006 to 89% in 2010.

LCD monitors, already the standard choice for desktop displays, will increase their market penetration even further, from 80% to 94%, through 2010, Wang said. Monitor screen size will also increase, from an average of 17 in. to 19 in., and, as with notebook computers, the aspect ratio will change from standard to wide format. During the next five years, shipments of wide format desktop monitors will rise at a CAGR of 108%, he predicted, and by 2010 wide format monitors will account for 42% of unit shipments.

Reasons for the surge toward wide-format monitors are twofold, according to Wang. They are more economical for FPD companies to manufacture, as panel cutting efficiencies are higher with larger units, he noted. And Microsoft’s new Vista OS will be oriented to a wide-format display, as will a new generation of video games.

However, to meet the demand for larger, higher-quality, lower-cost displays, FPD makers must overcome a host of design obstacles. Top challenges cited by Wang include reducing display costs and power consumption by developing a higher-efficiency backlight unit, optimizing the spectrum between the color filter and backlight, and increasing the aperture ratio of the thin-film transistor design. Other requirements include boosting contrast ratio by precisely controlling the liquid crystal alignment with the polyimide (PI) surface, improving the uniform absorption axis of the polarizer film, and refining the color filter material; reducing motion blur and enhancing dynamic contrast by integrating scanning backlight technology and increasing the frequency of the scan rate; and accelerating response time by developing new LCD materials and structures.

Manufacturing improvements will also be required to achieve further cost reductions, with the primary goal of adopting more efficient printing techniques, Wang contended. Instead of the conventional transfer printing method that applies PI layers with a roller and APR plate, inkjet technology uses an inkjet head array to allow direct application to the substrate, enabling a much larger area to be printed. Also, inkjet technology allows the processing steps of clean, coat, exposure, develop, and bake processes to be performed only once for all RGB filter layers, resulting in greater efficiency and cost savings.

Wang also called for the use of laser cutting to replace conventional diamond wheel technology. Whereas diamond wheel cutting entails a cut, bevel, and clean process that can result in cracks and chipping on substrate surfaces, laser technology is a non-contact, one-step process that produces superior results at lower cost, Wang said.

One of the most critical needs as the industry moves to larger panel sizes is for improved glass substrate handling techniques. The substrate size for 7.5 generation panels is already larger than a king-size bed, but only 0.7mm thick and therefore very flexible, explained Wang. When lowered onto conventional conveyors, the glass is prone to cracking and marking from the rollers, so air-floating technology is beginning to be implemented, he said. “There are still many difficulties to overcome with the technology, but we believe there will be significant improvements in the next three years.”

All of these challenges cannot be overcome by the flat panel display manufacturers alone, cautioned Wang. “We need component, material, and equipment suppliers to work together to make sure the industry continues to evolve.” — .PL.


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