Metal oxide backplanes are gaining commercial ground

Dr Khasha Ghaffarzadeh
Metal oxide backplanes are gaining commercial ground
Metal oxide display backplanes have already gone commercial. Sharp has invested in establishing a Gen8 IGZO plant at its Kameyama plant in Japan while LG has also selected IGZO backplanes for its large-sized white OLED technology. At the same time, Chinese companies such as BOE are fast playing catch up with both prototype and production capacity announcements.
The IDTechEx market research report Metal Oxide TFT Backplanes for Displays 2014-2024:Technologies, Forecasts, Players estimates that 7 km sqr of metal oxide backplanes will be used in the OLED industry in 2024, enabling a 16 billion USD market at the display module level. The LCD display market will add an extra demand of at least 1 km sqr per year in 2024 for metal oxide backplanes.

A strong value proposition

The metal oxide backplane technology has many clear advantages. It offers high field-effect mobility and spatial uniformity. This is beneficial for large-sized OLED displays, which are current driven. It is also good for high-definition displays as the high mobility enables increasing the aperture ratio. The ON/OFF ratio is high (also the leakage current is low) meaning that device power consumption is low. The manufacturing process is based on sputtering, which is a well-known process in the industry, therefore not requiring drastic modification to existing installed processes. The wide bandgap nature of the semiconductor also suggests that devices can be transparent, paving the way towards transparent displays although we note that instability issues under visible illumination persist.
This technology therefore compares favourably with many competing solutions. While it is neither as fast nor as stable as LTPS, it is more scalable. It is not as low cost as amorphous silicon (depreciated assets and large accumulated production experience) but is faster and more stable. It is perhaps not as intrinsically flexible as organic and carbon nanotube TFTs, but it is already more mature, stable, and amenable to large-scale production.

Technology limitations

The technology is however not without its limitations. The production yield has been low, largely due to a lack of accumulated production experience in the industry. The window of optimal processing conditions is narrow, making manufacturing more challenging that initially assumed. The device stability (e.g., threshold voltage stability) has remained a persistent challenge, although the devices are now far better as the channel composition, the dielectric/challenge and the passivation layer deposition processes are all further optimised.
Plastic and flexible displays are emerging. The first commercial examples are bent or curved mobile phones that are rigid but on a plastic (i.e., polymide) substrate. All types of backplane technologies can be utilised here as the processing takes place over a carrier glass and polyimide substrate itself can also tolerate high processing conditions.
IDTechEx believes that this is the fourth wave of OLED displays after small-sized displays, mobile/tablets and TVs. Indeed, we forecast that the units of rigid plastic displays will be 8m in 2014, 70m in 2018 and 170m in 2024; while the units of flexible plastic displays will be 37m in 2018 and 148m 2024.
Prototypes of flexible displays with metal oxide backplanes have also been demonstrated although there is still a paucity of data on measuring the reliability of these backplanes under extreme or multiple bending cycles. The common strategy today is to carefully control device thinness so that the backplane lies in the neutral plane when bent, thus not experiencing large mechanical stresses. This approach is non-ideal for truly flexible and even rollable devices. Indeed, the technology choice for truly flexible and even rollable devices is still not fully settled and no clear winner has emerged.

Dynamics of OLED TV market

The dynamics of large-sized OLED TV market are interesting. LG has invested in a white OLED technology with IGZO backplane that is easier to scale, while Samsung's technology is more competitive at smaller display size. This has meant that many are now seeking to use quantum-dot layers as a way to upgrade large-sized LCD displays to OLED-quality displays. This is a threat to large-sized OLED and therefore also to IGZO planes, although we are still at the early stage and the best QD products on the market still contain cadmium, a toxic material.

Metal Oxide TFT Backplanes for Displays 2014-2024: Technologies, Forecast, Players

The market for metal oxide backplanes is at the beginning of its growth phase. IDTechEx draws upon its technical and market expertise to make sense of this complex space. IDTechEx analysts have hands-on experience of fabricating, characterising and modelling metal oxide TFTs and have developed a detailed body of market and technology knowledge around displays with strong emphasis on OLED displays including plastic and flexible versions. In this report, IDTechEx will deliver the following:
A detailed technology assessment including the latest performance results, stability analysis (bias and light stress), and the choice of the dielectric:
1. Quantitative technology benchmarking against rival solutions
2. Latest industry news and trends
3. Application and market analysis
4. Ten-year segmented market projections
5. Company profiles
For more information about the report "Metal Oxide TFT Backplanes for Displays 2014-2024: Technologies, Forecast, Players" see
Top image: OTFT-Driven OLED Display that can be rolled up onto a pen (Source: Sony)