Samsung Display’s decision to operate the A3 plant within the year, which is dedicated exclusively to flexible OLED panels, can be interpreted as its belief that the company cannot afford to lose its grip on the flexible OLED TV market, which is considered to be a future growth market.
In particular, Samsung Display appears to have reached the conclusion that it cannot delay its investment in the A3 plant any more due to the market environment. For instance, Apple is scheduled to roll out the iWatch with a built-in flexible OLED screen in Sept. In addition, LG Display is going to operate its 8th generation production lines to produce OLED displays in the latter half of this year.
Kim Dong-won, an analyst at Hyundai Securities, said, “Samsung Electronics is expanding its market share mainly with high-end smartphones, but the pace is slow because of market saturation.” He added, “To achieve a breakthrough, the company is expected to change the design of new smartphones in an innovative manner, with flexible OLED displays.” In other words, the Korean tech giant is likely to unveil new smartphones with OLED screens produced at the A3 plant, helped by Samsung Display’s investment.
Samsung Electronics is going to release its flagship smartphone, the Galaxy S6, and the Galaxy Note 5 as early as the first quarter of next year. Therefore, experts are saying that it is necessary for Samsung Display to begin the operation of its plant within the year and to secure the supply of flexible panels so that flexible OLED displays can be used in those new products.
A barrage of requests from business partners also contributed to Samsung Display’s investment decision. In the past, partner companies urged the firm to invest at the plant, saying that if Samsung Display further delays its investment in the A3 plant, the delay will aggravate their financial deterioration. In particular, some of them reportedly expressed strong dissatisfaction, saying, that if the firm continues to postpone its investment, they would have no choice but to supply their equipment to foreign companies, including Chinese firms.
The A3 plant is projected to be fully operational in Nov. or Dec. at the earliest, since it will take at least six months for Samsung Display to bring in, install, and run the equipment after placing orders in April. The mass production of flexible OLED displays is likely to begin in Jan. or Feb., after manufacturing yield has improved through test operations.
The factory is expected to produce flexible OLED panels for smartphones and other wearable devices such as smart watches and smartbands. Samsung Display reportedly has a flexible display production capacity of about 15,000 to 20,000 units a month per line, which means that as much as 20,000 units of 5 or 6-inch smartphones (phablets) can be manufactured a year. Manufacturing output depends on how much Samsung Electronics increases the share of smartphones equipped with a flexible OLED display. The A3 plant is also likely to produce large OLED panels for TVs sooner or later, in line with the growth rate of the global OLED TV market.
With Samsung Display actively seeking to invest in the A3 plant, competition between the company and LG Display is going to be more intense, since LG Display’s M2 lines, which can produce up to 26,000 units of 8th-generation (2,200mm×2,500mm) WRGB OLED panels a month, are also scheduled to operate in the latter half of this year.
To equipment manufacturers, who have suffered greatly for several years due to a lack of investment in facilities to produce displays, Samsung Display’s decision to place an order for equipment to mass-produce flexible displays at the A3 plant is likely to ameliorate the situation.