Mini LED Will Soon Hit Mass Production, Chinese LED Firms Say

Even though Mini LED products have yet to be launched, they has already attracted a lot attention in the market.

According to media reports, Huawei, OPPO and Xiaomi are worried about insufficient OLED panel production, so they plan to use Mini LED-lit LCD displays for their smartphones in 2H18. Despite the fact that this rumor is not confirmed yet, the LED supply chain already pins its hope on Mini LED.

In the evening of April 9, Refond announced that it planned to issue convertible bonds worth  RMB 468 million at most (USD 67.95 million). In particular, RMB 160 million (USD 23.23 million) will be invested in Mini LED packaging production projects and Micro LED technology research projects. Judging by the announcement, Refond seems already capable of manufacturing Mini LED packages, while its Micro LED technology is still under development.

Refond is not the only one who commits to developing Mini LED and Micro LED products. In the Chinese A-share market, companies, such as Shenzhen MTC, Changelight, HC Semitek and NationStar are also devising their Mini LED technologies.

(Image: Ju/flickr)

Mini LED is strategically important

What are Mini LED and Micro LED display technologies? What is the difference between them and OLED? How does the industry see the two new display technologies?

A number of industry professionals stated that, in markets of consumer electronics such as TV and smartphone, OLED wins a lot of consumers’ hearts. As we all know, OLED's capacity is currently limited and South Korea suppliers are the fundamental monopolies.

Enterprises that focus on LED display technology rather than OLED are suffered by eroded market shares. However, many of them do not choose to develop OLED.

OLED display technology is considered a next-generation technology. So is Micro LED. Micro LED's key features are low power consumption and high brightness. When Micro LED is compared with OLED, OLED is typically prone to burn-in issues, but Micro LED is free of this issue.

Apple bought LuxVue for its Micro LED technology in 2014. It collaborates with related supply chains, in order to research Micro LED equipment for production. Other famous companies that work on Micro LED include Foxconn and Sony.

Currently, there are difficulties for Micro LED to reach mass production. In comparison, Mini LED possesses the advantages of Micro LED and is easier to be massively produced. Mini LED is considered an ideal transitional technology before Micro LED technology is commercialized. Besides, Mini LED and Micro LED technologies share some common grounds of technologies, so technologies required to realize them are to some extent similar.

Taiwanese manufacturers are the major sources of Mini LED and Micro LED technologies for reasons below. First, high-end OLED panel market demand has increased. Next, Korean suppliers nearly monopolies the high-end OLED panel technologies. Therefore, the Taiwanese LED industry is marginalized in the OLED market. Meanwhile, the next-generation Micro LED technology has not been massively commercialized. Therefore, Taiwanese LED suppliers urgently want a new and ideal technology, so they choose Mini LED.

Chin-Lung Ting, Executive Vice President of Innolux, expressed that Taiwanese did not catch up the timing of AMOLED investment. Now it is late for that. However, if Taiwanese suppliers can successfully research and develop Mini LED and Micro LED, AMOLED panel's market share might be limited within a range in the future.

Compared with traditional LCD display technology, Mini LED's High Dynamic Range (HDR) feature can perform better local dimming. Mini LED can consume less power, provides finer resolution and support full-screen specification. Mini LED can be used on large-sized display, TV and smartphone's backlight module.

Another advantage of Mini LED is that its cost is lower than that of OLED. Refond takes a 6-inch smartphone panel as an example. The general LED backlight of LCD panel will cost about USD 20~30. Flexible OLED will cost around USD 80~100. Mini LED backlight of LCD panel will cost about USD 40~50.

China-based companies state they can mass produce Mini LED

Several A-share listed companies in China have already been investing and developing their Mini LED technologies. Refond announced that it has first-entrant advantage of some crucial Mini LED technologies because Refond began earlier than some competitors did.

For Mini LED applications, Refond has co-developed with internationally-renowned home appliance company to make Mini LED backlight display modules. This project has progressed quite well.

Meanwhile, Refond has collaborated with internationally-famous telecommunication firm to develop smartphone's Mini LED backlight display modules and flexible curved Mini LED packages. The Mini LED packages have been able to be manufactured in small batches of quantity.

Refond cannot reveal who Refond's customers are at the current stage, but Refond does work with Mini LED products with the leading brands of home-appliance and smartphone enterprise.

Shenzhen MTC has been developing Mini LED and Micro LED technologies. Shenzhen MTC is closely monitoring and researching Micro LED technologies, such as LED chips, packages, and mass transfer technologies. In the same time, Shenzhen MTC focuses on Mini LED. It co-operates with domestically well-known smartphone makers in China, and is able to massively produce Mini LED products.

HC Semitek expressed that if consumer electronics' displays, such as smartphone and TV displays, can massively use Mini LED technologies, demand of Mini LED chips will grow multiple folds. Therefore, HC Semitek is currently proactively developing Mini LED chip technologies and is actively improving production yield rates.

BOE in the A-share market directly targets next-generation display technology Micro LED. It recently explains that the firm already began to develop Micro LED technologies and has some successful results.

Regarding the China government policies, on April 8, Shengwu Wu, Vice Director from Electronic Information Department from Ministry of Industry and Information Technology of China (MIIT), said MIIT and National Development and Reform Commission of China (NDRC) co-developed a plan called "A Three-Year Action Plan for New Display Industry Development ". This plan will be published in the near future.

MIIT's next step is to guide enterprises to accelerate their development, to massively manufacture new types of backplanes, ultra-high resolution products, and flexible panels. Another key point is to speed up the research on future display technologies, such as pixel-level AMOLED, quantum dot, printed OLED display, and Micro LED display technologies.

For new generation display technologies worldwide, OLED and QLED technologies are commercialized while Micro LED and Mini LED are near the stage of commercialization. Which technology will dominate the future market share? The answer is uncertain.

Generally speaking, the market share of OLED will grow in the full-screen segment and OLED products have been massively manufactured. QLED's market share undergoes rapid growth. When it comes to the development of Micro LED and Mini LED, the LED industry is optimistic but also needs to continue monitoring breakthroughs for their technologies and the pace of readiness for their mass production.

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