Micro light-emitting diode (LED), which is considered the dream display technology, is expected to be commercialized sooner than expected. Taiwan’s PlayNitride, which is the leader in the micro-LED sector, will start trial mass production of mobile micro-LED panels as early as the second half of this year.
According to Taiwan-based English IT daily Digitimes on September 11, PlayNitride is planning to start trial production of 5-inch micro-LED panels for smartphones from the second half of this year. In May, it was rumored that Samsung Electronics is set to acquire PlayNitride for around US$150 million (170 billion won), but that deal did not materialize.
Micro-LED has a similar structure with existing LEDs but the chip measures less than 100 micrometers (µm) in width and length. Currently, the side length of a small flip-chip LED is 800 (µm). The micro-LED technology can reduce the width and length of current displays by one-eighth but realize three to four times more clear image quality than retina displays.
According to industry sources, PlayNitride currently has mass transfer and placement yield rates of 99 percent in its lab. In PlayNitride's R&D setup, it takes about 10 seconds to transfer and place 200,000 LEDs on a panel. Therefore, the company has already overcome all the technical difficulties as it has been considered the most difficult process in micro-LED production.
To be sure, the company should work on lowering the cost of production. Currently, the cost of 5-inch premium mobile OLED panels is US$70 to 80 (79,100 won to 90,400 won), while that of micro-LED panels produced by PlayNitride reaches US$300 (339,000 won) which is more than four times higher than OLEDs.
However, some say that the initial higher cost will not be a problem. This is because the cost of equipment needed to produce micro-LEDs is about half the cost of existing OLED and LCD production equipment and its profitability can significantly improve when the production process become stabilized.
Apple, Samsung Electronics and LG Display also have a competition behind the curtains to lead the micro-LED technology. Apple is promoting micro-LED as a new technology that can replace LCDs and OLEDs. Previously, the company acquired LuxVue, a venture company in the micro-LED sector.
In addition, LG Display has been intensively researching on the micro-LED technology under the umbrella of its chief technology officer (CTO). In particular, LG Display Vice Chairman Han Sang-beom announced the company’s plan to commercialize large micro-LEDs in the near future during a recent press conference. The product is expected to be similar with Sony’s CLEDIS which is the first large micro-LED based display in the industry.
Samsung Electronics is researching and developing the micro-LED technology based on the visual display business division and Samsung Advanced Institute of Technology. The company tried to acquire PlayNitride this year to strengthen the technical competitiveness. However, it has made no progress as the enterprise-wide M&A projects have been put on hold after Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong was arrested.