November 2, 2012 - OLED revenues are currently being driven by display applications (e.g. smartphones), but there's a new battleground slowly emerging: OLEDs for lighting applications where the technology could offer some advantages in design and efficiency for some applications -- if panel makers are willing to make some sacrifices, according to a report from Yole Développement.
Conventional LED technology has paved the way in solid-state lighting, and has a large headstart; OLED has to overcome high costs and current lower efficiency, which are hampering market adoption and penetration. The firm sees OLEDs for lighting making initial inroads in specific lighting applications (automotive, general lighting) and in niche specialty and high-end lighting where it can offer some differentiation in design options. To crack more traditional lighting markets (commercial, office buildings, etc.), however, OLED technology will have to advance the technology and expand across different niche markets to achieve economies of scale and will decrease costs. Yole pegs this happening sometime in 2014, with the rise of larger substrates and better process control.
Pars Mukish, technology & market analyst for LED & OLED at Yole, then foresees an astonishing growth projection for OLED lighting panels: from a $2.8M market this year (2012) to nearly $1.7B by 2020, with general lighting applications representing more than 70% of that business.
OLED panels revenue for lighting applications. (Source: Yole Développement)
That won't come easy, though. There are a number of materials and OLED structures being explored and in production, tweaked to improve performance and lifetime and also decrease manufacturing costs. Polymer materials for OLEDs continue to struggle (vs. small-molecule OLED materials) in demonstrating their capabilities to lower costs and improve performance to production-acceptable levels. Rigid glass is still the go-to substrate for OLED lighting panels, but work continues on other flexible OLED technologies including roll-to-roll processing, ultrathin glass, and encapsulation options.
To have a chance at fulfilling the aforementioned growth expectations for OLED lighting, OLED panel makers have to quickly identify the winning technology approaches and time-to-market strategies. "New business models are mandatory as the traditional lighting industry will be reluctant to integrate new technology as it could eat away at margins -- OLED cost directly impacts the cost of OLED-based luminaires," points out Milan Rosina, Yole's technology & market analyst for OLED & photovoltaics. The kicker: both the new OLED technology and its integration into production are brand-new to panel makers, who are unlikely to sacrifice existing LED lighting sales and complicate production just to deploy a new technology, he notes.
Thus the key to OLED technology's future in more mainstream lighting applications, the Yole analysts say, boils down to how and when panel makers can establish vertical integration strategies and figure out how to push the new technology through existing distribution channels. And above all, find that "spark" niche market (or markets) that will pave the way to economies-of-scale, which will open up the conversations to convey opportunities and advantages for OLED technology in general consumer lighting applications.