“At the tipping point” was the theme of the Flexible & Printed Electronics Conference held this week in Phoenix Arizona. The releases of the Samsung Galaxy Round and LG G Flex flexible AMOLED based smartphones in late 2013 were widely cited throughout the conference as evidence that flexible display technology has finally reached critical mass.
Certainly, the commercialization of curved AMOLEDs on plastic substrates is a significant technical milestone. In 2014 more new devices that adopt flexible AMOLEDs of various form factors are also expected to come to market. NPD DisplaySearch has created multiple scenario forecasts to estimate the potential future size of the flexible AMOLED market. An optimistic scenario suggests that the market could grow as fast as 151% CAGR to exceed $20 billion in 2020.
Figure 1 Flexible AMOLED Roadmap
Source: NPD DisplaySearch
This forecast is predicated on the assumption that manufacturing technology innovations will continue to both increase flexibility and lower costs to enable wider adoption in numerous applications.
As will be analyzed in detail in our upcoming report on flexible AMOLEDs, manufacturing costs for flexible AMOLED displays are a multiple of equivalent size rigid panels. The flexible AMOLED processes now in mass production require extra capital equipment, which drives additional depreciation costs. Even so, the main reason for the substantial cost difference is low yield rates on flexible processing.
Most of the large number of presentations at the Flextech Conference focused on innovative technologies related to substrates, barriers, adhesives, process equipment, back/front plane materials, and more which are all trying to push the flexible AMOLED roadmap forward. However, only a small number of presentations mentioned cost and yield issues. In order for flexible AMOLEDs to really break through to a sustainable business model, yield rates will need to approach those of LCDs and rigid AMOLEDs.
As shown at the Flexible & Printed Electronics Conference, the value-add of flexible AMOLEDs is highly compelling and manufacturability continues to improve. Even if the magical tipping point is delayed until flexible AMOLEDs can narrow the cost gap, the market will likely continue to grow incrementally.