Dream into Reality: Sizable yet Transparent and Flexible Display

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Friday, August 10th, 2012

Future Industrial Technology Development Project by MKE

SEOUL, KOREA – Anyone who saw Tom Cruise’s “Minority Report” would remember that incredible clear-as-glass screen he used to manipulate images and data. This futuristic display seemed like a distant dream 10 years ago when the movie was released, but in the near future, this dream is about to come true. The development of transparent and flexible displays was selected as one of the Future Industrial Technology Development Projects led by the Korean Ministry of Knowledge Economy (MKE)’s Office of Strategic R&D Planning(OSP).

Dr. Shin Cho

Dr. Shin Cho, Managing Director from the Office of Strategic R&D Planning, the Korean Ministry of Knowledge Economy

The main role of OSP is to develop strategies and guidelines of next year’s budget for the around USD 4.2 billion of MKE’s R&D budget, having a consultation with each department. This time, the Office initiated the Future Industrial Technology Development Projects, selecting and supervising projects which will create future growth engines of Korea. Being comprised of former CEOs or CTOs well-versed in market trends, they are expected to have more sense of responsibility in investing in business. 

The projects are categorized as fast track or slow track where fast track, referred to as “Creation of Early Outcome” is a short-term project lasting for three years involving conception new of botanical drugs and key system semiconductors for IT convergence. On the other hand, slow track called “Creation of New Market” lasts for five to seven years concentrating on long-term projects such as transparent and flexible display creation, one of the three projects initiated this year, six in total.

Transparent, Flexible, Ultra-high definition,60-inch Display

“We are expecting the AMOLED display project to satisfy four conditions: transparency, flexibility, ultra-high definition, and 60-inch size. There have been continuous attempts to develop transparent display using conventional LCD. This display is said to be ready for mass production with around 20% transparency and for various purposes including commercial refrigerator. However, this AMOLED display project will shoot for 40% transparency, a figure which a person can comfortably see objects out of the window and which cannot be realized with LCD technology,” said Dr. Shin Cho, Managing Director from the Office of Strategic R&D Planning, the Korean Ministry of Knowledge Economy.

He continued, “In terms of flexibility, the display should be bendable up to a 10-centimeter radius, although it cannot be rolled up like paper yet. Currently, no display satisfying both transparency and flexibility is commercially available in the market. Another challenge to face is the development of a relatively large display which can also be used in public windows, but once this 60-inch display is mass-produced, smaller-sized products would be easier to develop. Lastly, we expect ultra-high definition exhibiting clear images and high resolution, more vivid than conventional HD. This project is bound for mass production of the product as soon as the project ends.”

Early this year, two consortiums – Samsung and LG with around 20 related organizations respectively – participated in the screening process where LG’s consortium was selected. “From the government’s perspective, however, we have no intention of supporting large companies, either Samsung or LG, but SMEs, colleges, and research centers developing original technologies that together comprise the consortium. Out of around USD 53 million (60 billion won), vast majority of the fund will be assigned to SMEs, colleges and research institutes, whereas the share of LG is minimal. Private companies, large and small, mostly do not have incentives to initiate long-term investments that produce results after several years, say, six years or so because of various evaluation system and tenure issues. In this regard, it is important for the government to intervene and raise a flag for the industry as an indicative planning. We saw the growth prospect of the transparent and flexible display market in the next five to six years, that’s why the government’s plan to invest is a good signal for the industry to act on it. Although LG’s consortium was selected for this project, it was also a signal for Samsung to boost investment,” Dr. Cho added.

display

Transparent display shown in the movie Minority Report

Large and Small Firms’ Eco-system

“For many manufacturing sectors including LCD and OLED in Korea, many core materials and equipment are imported from different countries. Even large companies lack the initiative to develop their own equipment or materials because of readily available, yet a bit high-priced imported goods. From the perspective of these companies, domestic supply is good but not a must. However, with support from the government, the project aims at collaboration with SMEs and large companies to develop technologies, and consequently create buyer-supplier relationship. Large companies can engage from the early stage specifying their demands on equipment and materials, testing and giving advice to SMEs from time to time. In this context, as the eco-system cannot be created by the industry itself if left to the market, government involvement is essential.” 

In the Korean LCD industry, complacency is off the table. While Samsung and LG still leading with 60% global market share, Chinese companies are now emerging fast backed by their government’s huge investment. With demand to shift from CRT to LCD highest in China, Chinese display companies’ rapid growth is inspired by their need to fulfill demands of the growing trend within their domestic market. If TV prices continue to fall, the future for Korean LCD companies is sure to hit rock bottom. Another growing trend is the establishment of plants in China by foreign companies on the grounds of cost reduction and growing buying power in the country.

Targeting high-end market

What should companies do in the context? “They need to increase customer value through product differentiation. Korean companies are now swiftly moving toward OLED which is lighter, clearer and requires less power consumption. However, the government’s role here is not to support OLED since huge investments have already been put in for this product. Instead, we are aiming to stimulate competition among companies to take the lead in exploiting untapped resources to create new technologies. He took Apple as an example. As the manufacture of end products have shifted from the U.S. to Japan since the 1970s, only software technologies were left in the U.S. With innovative ideas left unrealized at the time, the invention of Apple revitalized the economy,” he said.

“Bottom line is that leading companies should spend less effort on already commoditized products and quickly move towards high-end markets. If the display project succeeds, we are expecting that a considerable portion of the display market will be replaced with transparent and flexible displays by 2020. It can be a tough competition but I’m confident that in the near future, you will see the marvelous transparent screen “Minority Report” turn to reality.”

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