A Korean research team consisting of members from both industry and academia have successfully developed key elements of 8th generation digital exposure equipment, or lithographic devices for flat panel displays, which can be used in manufacturing not only LCD but organic light-emitting diode (OLED) screens.
Exposure equipment for flat panel displays was the only device that was not localized among the five key devices to produce displays, which forced local manufacturers to rely solely on imports from other countries such as Japan. As this development will open doors for the local production of exposure equipment, it is expected to bring about an economic ripple effect of over 1 trillion won ($US950 million), including import replacements worth 600 billion won (US$570 million), or 20 to 30 billion won per unit.
The Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy (MOTIE) announced on December 16 that it has completed the government-mandated project called the Basic Technology Development of Electronic Information Device Industry, and succeeded in developing key technology for 8th generation digital lithography, or the exposure device (2200×2500mm) of a flat-panel display. The 41 billion won (US$39 million) project has been going since December 2008 with joint efforts from industrial and academic sectors including Samsung Electronics, LG Electronics, Poongsan Systems, Evertechno, and both Yonsei and Sungkyunkwan Universities.
Exposure equipment has been traditionally produced by Japanese firms such as Cannon and Nikon, which have until now dominated the market. As such, the barrier to entry was high, and Korean companies had to rely on imports which generally amounted to 600 billion won (US$ 570 million) a year. However, if the exposure device is localized, the current 60 percent localization rate of display equipment will jump to 90 percent, strengthening Korea’s reputation as the world’s leading display maker.
This newly-developed technology is a huge leap, and industry insiders are taking notice. Unlike the Japanese analog type, which exposes a “photomask” to light and draws its reflection on a glass display, it exposes computer drawn-circuitry to a glass panel directly without using a photomask. It is the first of its kind in the world.
Dr. Han Jae-won of Yonsei University, who took part in this project, said, “If photomask-less digital exposure technology is commercialized, it will save 500 billion won [US$475 million] a year that has been spent on producing photomasks,” adding, “Production, development, and manufacturing time will also be shortened by 3 months.”
Dr. Han Jae-won also said, “This newly-developed exposure technology uses Ultraviolet (UV) radiation and lasers instead of high-pressure mercury-vapor lamps, which will enable further microprocessing to a unit as small as 3.5 microns and will give us the edge on manufacturing high resolution displays.”
It’s expected that Samsung and LG will participate, together with small and medium sized companies, in the commercialization efforts of 8th generation digital lithography devices, and commercialization will take about 2 years to complete.
According to an official of MOTIE, “When digital exposure technology is commercialized, it will immediately be applied to domestic production lines at Samsung and LG. And further, it will be a stepping stone in making inroads into the global market for digital display lithography, which is estimated to be 1 trillion won [US$950 million].”