Thanks to TV manufacturers’ aggressive procurement activities, global TV panel shipment for 1H21 reached 135.2 million pcs, a 3.5% YoY increase, according to TrendForce’s latest investigations. Notably, high-end OLED TV panels and 8K LCD TV panels showed diametrically opposed movements. The former product category reached a 2.6% market share in 1H21 (with room for further growth going forward) due to LGD’s capacity expansion as well as the narrowing gap between OLED panel prices and LCD panel prices. On the other hand, the latter’s market share fell to a mere 0.2% in 1H21 as panel suppliers were generally reluctant to manufacture 8K LCD TV panels due to these panels’ poor yield rates.
TrendForce’s findings indicate that Chinese panel suppliers were able to achieve a 58.3% share in the TV panel market, which was nearly 5 percentage points higher than their 1H20 market share, thanks to their growing number of production lines. Conversely, Taiwanese suppliers saw their market share drop by 2.2 percentage points from 1H20 levels to 21.1% in 1H21. This decline took place because of their limited production capacities and because they reallocated some of their production capacities for TV panels to IT products instead. Korean suppliers likewise experienced a decline in market share to 14.3% after SDC shuttered its Korea-based LCD fabs L7-2 and L8-1-2 and sold its Suzhou-based Gen 8.5 fab to CSOT. Finally, Japanese suppliers’ market shares increased to 6.3% as a result of SDPC’s Gen 10.5 capacity expansion.
Regarding OLED TV panels, which are relatively high-end products, it should be pointed out that LGD is the sole supplier of these panels. Not only did LGD expand the production capacity of its Guangzhou-based OLED panel fab, but LGD’s clients in the TV sector were also increasingly willing to procure OLED panels in light of the narrowing gap between OLED panel prices and LCD panel prices. Hence, the penetration rate of OLED panels in the TV panel market grew to 2.6% in 1H21, with about 3.556 million pcs shipped throughout the period. Furthermore, now that the Guangzhou fab’s OLED panel capacity reached 90k sheets/month in 2Q21, TrendForce expects annual OLED TV panel shipment for 2021 to reach 8 million pcs, with a 3% penetration rate in the overall TV panel market.
On the other hand, 8K LCD TV panels reached a mere 0.2% penetration rate in the TV panel market in 1H21 because panel suppliers’ concerns about profit and yield maximization resulted in their relatively low willingness to manufacture these products. On the demand side, clients were also unwilling to procure these panels due to persistently high quotes from suppliers. With regards to panel suppliers, CSOT in particular benefitted from the unique structure of its client base, which allowed it to dominate more than half of the 8K LCD TV panel market, with AUO taking second place. The respective market shares of CSOT and AUO currently sit at 54.4% and 22.6%. TrendForce forecasts a 0.2% penetration rate for 8K LCD TV panels for 2021 as the growth of these products is constrained by their relatively high prices and the current paucity of 8K content.
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Annual revenue of Micro LED chips for TV is expected to reach US$3.4 billion in 2025 at a 250% CAGR across the 2021-2025 period, according to TrendForce’s latest report titled 2021 Mini / Micro LED Self-Emissive Display Trends and Analysis on Suppliers’ Strategies. This growth can mostly attributed to the early planning by display manufacturers to adopt Micro LED technology for large-sized displays; although the prohibitive cost of this technology is unlikely to be overcome in the short run, TrendForce still forecasts the aforementioned revenue in light of several factors: First, Micro LED technology enables the production of gapless, large-sized modular displays; second, displays featuring Micro LED technology are able to meet the standards of cinema-grade displays or high-end TVs; finally, Korean TV brands have been aggressively investing in Micro LED TV development.
After TV market leader Samsung released its 146-inch TV wall, aptly named “The Wall”, in 2018, the company has continued to announce large-sized modular video walls and Micro LED TVs (which come in such sizes as 75-inch, 110-inch, 219-inch, and 292-inch) at each subsequent CES. TrendForce indicates that, prior to the widespread commercialization of Micro LED TVs, TV manufacturers will continue to face challenges in terms of both technological barriers and costs. In particular, breakthroughs in three areas remain the most noteworthy: Micro LED chips, backplanes/drivers, and mass transfer.
With regards to cost, Micro LED chips comprise the highest share of Micro LED TV manufacturing costs, and their persistently high prices can be attributed to three factors. The first of these factors is the enormous number of chips used in TV manufacturing. For instance, a 4K resolution TV requires 24.88 million Micro LED chips. Second of all, due to the diminutive size of Micro LED chips, their manufacturing process involves extremely stringent requirements regarding wavelength uniformity and clean room particle count. Finally, as Micro LED chips are smaller than 75μm, the current PL (photoluminescence) technologies are unable to fully detect defects in Micro LED chips, in turn increasing the difficulties in the mass transfer process of chips to backplanes.
With regards to backplane and driver technology, PCB backplanes paired with passive matrix (PM) are a relatively mature solution that has become the predominant choice for P > 0.625mm pixel pitch displays. However, for Micro LED TVs, which are relatively smaller in size but maintain the same resolution, once their pixel pitch shrinks below 0.625mm, challenges begin to arise with PCB backplane development, such as line width and line space, both of which can pose limits on mass production and increase manufacturing costs. Conversely, TFT glass backplanes paired with LTPS arrays are able to accurately control and drive the electrical circuits in Micro LED displays. This type of active matrix (AM)-equipped backplanes is therefore expected to become the mainstream technology of Micro LED TVs going forward.
Another technological challenge in backplane development is glass metallization. As displays approach increasingly high resolutions, they require correspondingly smaller gaps between modules. Now that traditional COF (chip on film) designs are no longer viable, manufacturers are instead routing the wirings on the surface of the TFT glass either from the side or through TGV (through glass via) processes. In order to achieve this routing, manufacturers need to make use of glass metallization technology. However, as many technological bottlenecks still remain with regards to glass metallization, such as low yield rate and high cost, manufacturers must work to overcome these barriers as the industry moves forward.
In terms of manufacturing process, the main hurdles in Micro LED development are twofold: mass transfer and testing/repairing. The 24.88 million Micro LED chips used in each Micro LED TV pose an enormous demand in terms of mass transfer yield rate, manufacturing time, and testing/repairing processes. At the moment, the industry’s predominant mass transfer technologies consist of pick and place, laser transfer, fluidic assembly, magnetic mass transfer, roll-based transfer, and wafer bonding.
The adoption of each respective mass transfer technology depends on the resolution of the display products as well as the size of Micro LED chips to be transferred, and each of these technologies comes with its own impact on production capacity, yield rate, and manufacturing equipment costs. That is why Micro LED production lines involve such a high degree of complexity. TrendForce believes that the mass transfer process in Micro LED TV manufacturing needs to reach a rate of at least 20 million UPH (units per hour) and a 99.999% yield for Micro LED TVs to be viable for wide commercial release.
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The stay-at-home economy remains robust due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, so the sales of gaming products such as game consoles and the demand for related components are being kept at a decent level, according to TrendForce’s latest investigations. However, the values of cryptocurrencies have plummeted in the past two months because of active interventions from many governments, with the graphics DRAM market entering into a bearish turn in 3Q21 as a result. While graphics DRAM prices in the spot market will likely show the most severe fluctuations, contract prices of graphics DRAM are expected to increase by 10-15% QoQ in 3Q21 since DRAM suppliers still prioritize the production of server DRAM over other product categories, and the vast majority of graphics DRAM supply is still cornered by major purchasers.
It should be pointed out that, given the highly volatile nature of the graphics DRAM market, it is relatively normal for graphics DRAM prices to reverse course or undergo a more drastic fluctuation compared with other mainstream DRAM products. As such, should the cryptocurrency market remain bearish, and manufacturers of smartphones or PCs reduce their upcoming production volumes in light of the ongoing pandemic and component supply issues, graphics DRAM prices are unlikely to experience further increase in 4Q21. Instead, TrendForce expects prices in 4Q21 to largely hold flat compared to the third quarter.
Sudden drop in ETH prices led to plummeting GDDR5 and GDDR6 spot prices
Recent observations on the spot trading of graphics DRAM products indicate that the changes in this market closely correlate to the changes in the value of ether (ETH) because graphics cards are the crucial tool for processing the mining algorithm of this cryptocurrency. ETH prices fell by more than 50% within a two-month span as a result of the latest measures enacted by regulatory agencies around the world to suppress the speculation of cryptocurrencies. Accordingly, cryptocurrency miners’ and investors’ interest in ETH has also diminished significantly. The plunging demand from cryptocurrency miners also means that a substantial number of graphics cards are being pushed into the second-hand market. TrendForce’s investigation shows that spot prices of graphics cards have fallen by about 20-60% over the past month or more. The differences in the magnitude of decline depends on brand and technology generation. Furthermore, the across-the-board decline in spot prices of graphics cards has also severely constrained the spot demand for graphics DRAM.
According to TrendForce’s understanding, even though spot prices are still higher than contract prices for GDDR6 chips, the difference is rapidly shrinking. This, in turn, will have an adverse effect on the general price trend of GDDR6 chips in the future. The trading is even more subdued for GDDR5 chips that are used in the earlier generations of graphics cards. Spot prices are now actually about 20% lower than contract prices for GDDR5 chips. The difference here indicates that there is a glut of older graphics cards, and the GDDR5 chips that are embedded in them are no longer in high demand.
Contract prices of graphics DRAM are expected to increase by nearly 15% for 3Q21 as graphics DRAM suppliers’ fulfillment rate remains relatively low
Regarding the contract market for graphics DRAM, the sell-side has considerable leverage in price negotiations as these suppliers prioritize the production of server DRAM ahead of other product categories. In the current ecosystem of discrete graphics cards, graphics DRAM buyers such as Nvidia are still opting for a business model based on bundle sales (that is, graphics card manufacturers that purchase Nvidia GPUs must also purchase graphics DRAM from Nvidia). Given that Nvidia and AMD have cornered the vast majority of graphics DRAM supply, notebook OEMs and small- and medium-sized manufacturers of computer components (such as motherboards) will find it difficult to procure sufficient graphics DRAM, while DRAM suppliers’ fulfillment rate for graphics DRAM chips remains relatively low. These aforementioned factors are responsible for not only the nearly 15% QoQ hike in the overall contract prices of graphics DRAM for 3Q21 (which is slightly higher than the corresponding price hikes in mainstream PC and server DRAM products for 3Q21), but also why spot prices of GDDR6 chips are about 10-15% higher than contract prices.
On the whole, prices in the graphics DRAM spot market, which is an extremely responsive market, have already begun to reflect the weakening demand from the end-product segment, particularly for graphics cards used in cryptocurrency mining. As the supply of second-hand graphics card increases, some graphics card manufacturers may thus kick off promotional price cuts to boost sales. In addition, buyers in the spot market may also begin anticipating even lower prices, and this anticipation will likely either lead to a massive decline in their graphics card demand or result in these buyers adopting a speculative attitude regarding graphics DRAM. TrendForce therefore believes that the gap between spot prices and contract prices of GDDR6 chips will begin to narrow in 3Q21.
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The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 compelled the manufacturing industry to move towards a future of digitization and automation that attempts to reduce labor associated with production and operation. In light of this shift, the use of industrial robots quickly expanded from its earlier applications in the automotive industry to other industries, particularly pharmaceutical production and healthcare, which have grown rapidly in demand in the post-pandemic era.
The Chinese market, more specifically, has seen remarkable growths in industrial robot production, from just under 30,000 units in October 2020 to 45,000 units subsequently, according to TrendForce’s latest investigations. As of March 2021, about 30,000 industrial units were produced each month. In addition, annual sale of industrial robots in 2020 reached about 170,000 units, a 15% YoY increase. Non-automotive industries, namely, the electronics industry and the metal fabrication industry (which spans robotic machining, freight manufacturing, and rail manufacturing), accounted for about 70% of industrial robot sales in China.
While labor costs in China gradually increased, the corresponding cost advantages associated with domestic production underwent a corresponding decline. As such, industrial robots, the production of which began approaching economies of scale, became one of the key drivers of the Chinese manufacturing industry’s shift towards high-end, advanced manufacturing. Companies such as Estun, STEP, GSK, and Inovance have been either increasing their R&D funding or acquiring other companies in order to raise their technological competencies, and their efforts have been accelerating China’s goal of “domestically manufactured substitutes”.
Articulated robots and home appliances are, in order, the two most prevalent applications of industrial robots
In the industrial robot market, articulated robots comprise the most widely adopted option. Articulated robots are primarily used across three industries, namely, automotive, metal fabrication, and home appliances segments. SCARA robots, on the other hand, represent the other mainstream type of industrial robot and are mainly used for electronics, li-ion, and PV panel manufacturing. Aside from the two aforementioned options, collaborative robots are also used for manufacturing metal products, ICT products, and consumer electronics.
In the Chinese market, for instance, articulated robots from major foreign suppliers have a significant advantage in the automotive, metal fabrication, and home appliances industries. These suppliers had a 73% share in the heavy payload (>20kg) segment and a 51% share in the light payload (≤20kg) segment in the articulated robot market last year, with ABB, FANUC, KUKA, and Yaskawa possessing most of these market shares.
Relatively, Estun, STEP, Siasun, GSK, and other Chinese industrial robot suppliers were instead focused on cultivating their presence among SMEs in tier 2 and tier 3 cities. These companies’ products are now used across a wide variety of applications in the automotive manufacturing (including automotive components and NEVs), metal fabrication, home appliances, and food/beverages sectors.
In particular, industrial robot-based production lines for whole vehicles have already been deployed for automotive manufacturing industries in these cities. Unlike their foreign competitors, major Chinese suppliers had a 20% market share in the heavy payload (>20kg) segment and 22% market share in the light payload (≤20kg) segment last year. Notably, Chinese suppliers possessed a slight advantage in the latter segment because metal fabrication and home appliances manufacturing, compared to automotive manufacturing, has relatively less stringent requirements regarding product compactness and stability.
Owing to its enormous population, Latin America has in recent years become a hotly contested market for smartphone brands. More specifically, the penetration rate of smartphones in Latin America rose from 32% in 2014 to 68% in 2020, with smartphone usage being the highest in Chile and Venezuela and lowest in Peru.
TrendForce’s investigations indicate that smartphone penetration rate in Brazil reached 72% in 2020 owing to high demand from young consumers and to the country’s massive population, the highest in Latin America. More than 85% of the 18-34 year old population group in the country consisted of smartphone owners, making Brazil the fourth largest smartphone market in the world behind only China, India, and the US. Notably, smartphone is the primary means of internet connection for most Brazilians.
With regards to smartphone brands, the Brazilian smartphone market is currently dominated by Samsung, Motorola (a Lenovo subsidiary), Xiaomi, LG, and Apple, with Samsung possessing the highest market share. Samsung’s success can mainly be attributed to its focus on customer experience. For instance, Samsung has established service centers in major cities including Sao Paulo and Campinas, where customers can not only experience the brand’s range of products, but also enjoy such value-added services as smartphone charging and free Wi-Fi, in addition to one-to-one consultation with Samsung staff.
As such, the company was able to achieve a 43.1% market share in Brazil last year. Trailing behind the Korean brand was Motorola, which took second place with a 20.5% market share. For the domestic market, Motorola’s handsets are manufactured by the Brazilian branch of global EMS giant Flex (previously known as Flextronics). Xiaomi rounded out the top three, with an 8.9% market share in 2020. Other Chinese smartphone brands such as OPPO, Vivo, and realme (the most aggressive among Chinese brands) have been entering the Latin American market since 2021.
Physical storefronts and one-stop-shop customer experiences are the keys to success in the Latin American smartphone market
Of course, entering the Brazilian market is no easy feat. TrendForce notes that some of the challenges involved with expanding in Brazil include the drastic movements of the Brazilian Real’s value as well as the country’s sky-high import duties, which have resulted in high retail prices for smartphones. Furthermore, shifts in domestic policies regarding smartphone manufacturing and online sales mean that smartphone brands must now establish domestic facilities for smartphone assembly. Apart from the high costs of domestic labor and components, Brazil’s taxes alone are able to significantly cannibalize the profitability of smartphone sales.
An appropriate case in point is Xiaomi’s 2015 venture into the Brazilian smartphone market. Xiaomi made its exit within a year of entering Brazil. Aside from the aforementioned high import duties, the company’s premature exodus took place because its online-based sales strategy was ill-suited for Brazil, where smartphone customers made purchases predominantly through major retail stores, and fewer than 20% of customers bought smartphones online.
Combined with Brazil’s prohibitive transportation costs, Xiaomi found itself unable to leverage its advantage of affordably priced handsets. Fast forward to 2019, however, as the Latin American market saw increased smartphone penetration, Xiaomi once again made its entrance, this time by focusing on developing its offline presence, including physical storefronts (called “Mi Stores”) in Colombia, Uruguay, Mexico, and Chile, which allowed it to score its first win in the Latin American smartphone market.