Value of OLED materials is expected to reach $3 billion by 2025 from $2.23 billion in 2022, thanks to support from manufacturers.
OLED materials account for 23 percent of the cost of producing smartphone panels, according to a report by TrendForce.
OLED components can be made using either polymers or small-molecule materials. While polymers have lower efficiency, combining them with printing technology can improve their lifespan and uniformity. Small-molecule materials have higher brightness and purer color, making them suitable for larger-generation OLED production. They are limited to FMM and vapor deposition machines.
The production of OLED components begins with synthesizing intermediates from raw monomers. The intermediates are then processed to become precursors before finally being sublimated and purified into terminal OLED materials.
Chinese manufacturers such as Jilin OLED Material, Ruilian New Materials, Aglaia Tech, and Shenzhen Mason supply intermediates, with a gross margin of about 10-20 percent. Terminal materials are produced via sublimation and purification, and their structure will not change through subsequent production, making them trade secrets for manufacturers.
The purity of these materials after sublimation is expected to be very high, allowing for gross margins as high as 60-70 percent. The technology and patents are concentrated within a few foreign manufacturers, but an increasing number of Chinese manufacturers are entering the market.
Apart from two electrodes, the structure of an OLED component consists of organic light-emitting materials, including the main host (light-emitting layer), guest material (dopant), and functional layers (with electron or hole transport properties).
Major manufacturers of red OLEDs include DuPont and LG Chemical, while Samsung DSI and Merck mostly produce green OLEDs. UDC has a monopoly on red and green phosphorescent dopant materials. Blue light-emitting materials used to be primarily supplied by Idemitsu Kosan and Merck, but LG’s next generation OLED evo TV uses deuterium-based blue emitter materials supplied by DuPont and LG Chemical to improve efficiency.
TrendForce predicts that the demand for OLED components will shift from folding smartphones to smart wearables, IT, and automotive applications, which will require more stringent requirements.
Panel manufacturers such as LG, Samsung, and BOE are competing for priority for the Tokki G8.7 evaporation machine to expand their applications.
More innovative technologies, such as Samsung’s vertical evaporation, eLeap lithography, and printing processes to improve the aperture ratio, will help push the expansion of OLEDs in the display industry. The entry of more Chinese manufacturers into the market will also make costs more competitive.
Besides established manufacturers like Tokuyama, Idemitsu Kosan, and LG, Chinese manufacturers are also beginning to enter into the market to supply functional layers, such as Laite’s Red Prime. Samsung and UDC are planning to commercialize blue phosphorescent materials in 2024 in order to address the lifetime issues of blue OLEDs.