TOKYO -- The government-backed JOLED is set to become the first Japanese company to mass-produce panels that use organic light-emitting diodes, employing new low-cost manufacturing technology to take on South Korean front-runners.
The Japan Display affiliate, formed from the merger of OLED panel development operations of Panasonic and Sony, has developed a process by which light-emitting material is deposited onto substrates much like a printer puts ink on paper. This requires a smaller upfront investment than the evaporation method used by such South Korean rivals as Samsung Electronics and also reduces the amount of material lost. Printed panels for televisions can cost 30-40% less to produce, which should bring down prices.
JOLED aims to begin mass production in 2019 at a Japan Display plant in the city of Nomi, Ishikawa Prefecture. The facility now churns out liquid crystal displays for Apple iPhones but is slated to halt production this year.
JOLED intends to solicit 100 billion yen ($887 million) to fund the project. It has begun approaching dozens of Japanese companies, including Sony, Canon, Fujifilm Holdings, Nikon and Sumitomo Chemical, asking each for 5 billion yen to 10 billion yen in capital. If JOLED cannot reach the target with domestic investment alone, it may turn to Chinese and other foreign companies. Plans will likely be rethought if it still fails to raise enough money after this.
JOLED is 75%-owned by the public-private Innovation Network Corp. of Japan investment fund, with Japan Display holding a 15% stake as Panasonic and Sony split the remainder at 5% each. The capital increase could dilute the INCJ's stake to less than 50%.
Research firm IHS Markit expects the OLED panel market to triple in just five years to $46.3 billion in 2021. Smartphones are seen accounting for most of this, though the technology is also expected to find wider use in a variety of applications, including TVs, medical devices and digital signage. While IHS Markit sees the LCD panel market, which centers on TVs, remaining larger in terms of scale at $91.9 billion, it forecasts growth of just 5% over the same period.