(TechNews) Google confirmed on May 4th that it has acquired Raxium, a start-up company with Micro LED display technology, which is expected to become key in Google’s mission to create a new generation of AR displays.
Google senior vice president of devices and services, Rick Osterloh, who leads the development of Google’s hardware products, stated that Raxium has spent five years creating a small, cost-effective, and energy-efficient high-resolution display that lays the foundation for future display technologies, adding, this company’s technology in this field could play a key role in Google’s hardware investments. Raxium, headquartered in Fremont, California, will be merged into Google’s devices and services group in the future but he did not disclose the purchase price or other details.
According to Raxium’s official website, the pixel pitch of s Super AMOLED screen on a mobile phone is approximately 50 microns but the company’s Micro LED technology can achieve approximately 3.5 microns and it claims to be able to create unprecedented display efficiency.
When foreign media, The Information, reported last month and first exposed Google’s plan to acquire Raxium, it pointed out that Micro LED technology can create AR displays that are more energy-efficient than other solutions while retaining vivid colors. In addition, Raxium is working on the monolithic integration of Micro LEDs, which is expected to significantly reduce costs.
This move makes Google’s plans for subsequent AR hardware products increasingly clear. Google acquired glasses startup North in 2020 and is reportedly recruiting engineers to develop an operating system for AR displays. It was revealed by foreign media in January this year that Google’s laboratory is developing a head-mounted AR device code-named “Project Iris” which is under the same management as “Project Starline” shown at the Google I/O 2021 developer conference last year.
Micro LED large-sized displays will move towards the home theater and high-end commercial display markets and the revenue of Micro LED large-sized display chips is estimated to reach US$54 million in 2022, according to TrendForce’s latest research. By 2026, revenue is expected to grow to US$4.5 billion with a compound annual growth rate of 204%. In addition, technical obstacles will be conquered one by one over time. The development of Micro LED large-sized displays will peak from 2026 to 2030 and the one year revenue of Micro LED chips has the opportunity to reach tens of billions of dollars.
In recent years, major global brands in various regions have released Micro/Mini LED self-emissive large-sized display products. Samsung, the world’s leading TV manufacturer, released a 146-inch TV, “The Wall,” in 2018 and continues to release 75-inch, 89-inch, 101-inch, 110-inch, 219-inch, and 292-inch large tiled wall displays at CES every year. Due to the evolution of different application scenarios and technologies, the future development trend of Micro LED large-sized displays will be in home theaters, corporate headquarters, and boutique stores. Commercial indoor and outdoor large-sized displays are mainly based on Mini LED self-emissive large-sized displays. In order to satisfy the requirements of close indoor viewing, Micro LED large-sized displays require a theater-level experience, seamless tiled display splicing, pursuit of zero borders, thin design, and competitive pricing. Thus, active matrix (AM) would be the first choice for display design.
TrendForce states, current Micro LED large-sized displays still face the dual challenges of technology and cost including Micro LED chip cost, and the three key technologies of backplane technology, driving technology, and the mass transfer process. In terms of Micro LED chip cost, due to the enormous number of chips used and the need for consistent wavelength uniformity to achieve perfect display quality, the clean room level requirements for epitaxial and chip processes, control of process conditions, and inspection and maintenance during processes are very strict, greatly increasing relative process defect rate and overall cost. In terms of mass transfer, the current mass transfer technologies used in Micro LED large-sized displays include pick-and-place technology and laser transfer technology, each with its own advantages and disadvantages. TrendForce believes that, although current Micro LED mass transfer technology is still in the product development and adjustment stage, there have been no real quantitative achievements. However, in terms of pick-and-place mass transfer equipment capacity, using 10cm2 transfer stamps to transfer 34*58µm Micro LED chips, production capacity (UPH; Unit per Hour) is approximately 7 million units. If the laser mask opening of laser mass transfer technology is 8 square millimeters, production capacity is approximately 12 million units. No matter which kind of transfer technology, the mass transfer capacity of Micro LED large-sized displays needs to reach at least a 20 million unit level of efficiency and 99.999% yield in the future to meet the conditions for mass commercialization.
Active matrix design will abet the development of Micro LED technology
In terms of backplane and drive technology, passive matrix (PM) drive design is based on a PCB backplane with a passive drive circuit structure, using MOSFET as the current switching element. Therefore, overall structure is more complex and requires a wider placement area for circuit components. In addition, when dot pitch is reduced to less than P0.625, the PCB backplane will encounter the challenges of line width and line space mass production limitations and rising cost. Thus, the current technological state of the passive matrix (PM) drive design is more suited to large-sized display applications utilizing dot pitches greater than P0.625 and equipped with a Mini LED. However, for consumer Micro LED TVs employing a dot pitch less than P0.625, active matrix (AM) drive design will become the new direction of display design. Since a TFT glass backplane with LTPS switching technology is considered mature technology by panel manufacturers, it is necessary to adjust certain portions of the manufacturing process and parameters to precisely control and drive Micro LED current.
In addition, in order to achieve seamless tiled display splicing technology, glass metallization and side wire electrode glass will become further technical challenges. As resolution moves higher and the dot pitch is reduced, the front circuit of TFT glass must be guided to the back along the side or by using through-holes. At this time, glass metallization technology becomes key. Since current glass metallization technology is still afflicted with technical bottlenecks resulting in high cost due to low yield, when these bottlenecks are resolved with future technology, the launch of mass production glass metallization will become the advantage of active matrix backplanes. Future active matrix (AM) drive design with Micro LED chips and seamless splicing technology have the opportunity to become the mainstream technology of Micro LED TV development and the key to unlocking a new wave of Micro LED large-sized display cost optimization.
In this press release, TrendForce details 10 major trends that are expected to take place across various segments in the tech industry, as follows:
Micro/Mini LED display development will revolve around active matrix solutions
A substantial number of technical bottlenecks in Micro LED development will still persist in 2022. While Micro LED manufacturing costs are expected to remain sky-high due to these bottlenecks, companies have not shown decreased willingness to participate in all segments of the Micro LED supply chain. On the contrary, these companies are actively expanding their respective production lines. Regarding the development of self-emitting Micro LED display products, TVs represent one of the major directions of mainstream Micro LED development, primarily because TVs, compared to IT products, have a relatively low technological barrier of entry. In other words, Micro LED TVs are easier to develop than are other Micro LED display products. For instance, after releasing a 110-inch commercial passive matrix Micro LED display, Samsung will likely continue to develop 88-inch (and under) consumer-grade active matrix Micro LED TVs. This extension of Micro LED technology from the large-sized commercial display segment to the household-use segment by Samsung is in turn indicative of the overall expansion of the Micro LED market.
Regarding display products equipped with Mini LED backlights, brands have been raising the number of Mini LED chips used per panel in an attempt to boost the specs of their display products and pursue 1:1,000,000 high contrast ratios that are comparable to OLED displays. As a result, Mini LED backlight panels’ LED chip consumption is more than 10 times higher compared to traditional LED backlight panels, in addition to the fact that Mini LED backplane manufacturing requires SMT equipment with a higher degree of accuracy and production capacity. While Mini LED backlights are primarily based on passive matrix solutions, they will move towards active matrix solutions going forward, with a corresponding surge in Mini LED chip consumption. Hence, the performance and capacity of SMT equipment will also become one of the key criteria in brands’ selection of potential supply chain partners.
More advanced AMOLED technology and under-display cameras will usher in the next stage of smartphone revolution
As the supply of and production capacity for AMOLED panels continue to rise, AMOLED technology has also become increasingly mature. Leading suppliers are still attempting to tack on additional functions and improved specs to their AMOLED panels in order to not only raise said panels’ added values, but also maintain the competitive advantages of the suppliers themselves. The primary value added to AMOLED panels in 2022 will likely continue to be the ever-improving foldable designs, which will feature optimized weight reduction and power efficiency. Apart from mainstream foldable phones that can unfold to reach tablet-like sizes, clamshell-like designs such as flip-up and flip-down smartphone bodies will also emerge as a form factor that more closely resembles the smartphones currently in use. Furthermore, retail prices of foldable phones are expected to generally fall within the price bands of mainstream flagships, thereby generating sales growths for the upcoming foldable models. Other foldable designs, including form factors with even more folds or rollable form factors, are expected to enter production within the near future. TrendForce expects foldable phones to reach a penetration rate of more than 1% in 2022 and 4% in 2024. LTPO panels, on the other hand, are an effective solution to power consumption issues arising from the adoption of 5G technology and high refresh rate displays. Hence, LTPO panels will likely gradually become the mainstream display panel for flagship smartphones. After two years of development and adjustments, under-display camera modules will finally make their appearance in various brands’ flagship models and enable the creation of smartphones with true full-screen displays.
The foundry industry welcomes the arrival of 3nm process technology courtesy of TSMC’s FinFET and Samsung’s GAA technologies
As semiconductor manufacturing processes gradually approach physical limits, chip development must now turn to either “changes in transistor architecture” or “breakthroughs in back-end packaging technology or materials” in order to achieve faster performances, reduced power consumption, and smaller footprints. After incorporating EUV lithography at the 7nm node in 2018, the semiconductor industry will welcome yet another revolutionary process technology in 2022 – the 3nm node. More specifically, TSMC and Samsung are expected to announce their respective 3nm process technologies in 2H22. While the former will continue to adopt the FinFET architecture that it has been using since the 1Xnm node, Samsung will for the first time utilize its own implementation of GAAFET, called MBCFET (multi-bridge channel field-effect transistor) for its 3nm process technology.
In contrast with the FinFET architecture, in which the gate makes contact with the source/drain channel on three sides, the GAAFET architecture consists of a gate that surrounds the nanowire or nanosheet channel on four sides, thus increasing the surface area of contact. The GAAFET design significantly reduces leakage currents by giving the gate a greater degree of control over the channel. Regarding possible applications, the first batch of products mass produced at the 3nm node in 2H22 is expected to primarily be HPC and smartphone chips since these products place a relatively high demand on performance, power consumption, and chip compactness.
While DDR5 products gradually enter mass production, NAND Flash stacking technology will advance past 200 layers
The three dominant DRAM suppliers (Samsung, SK Hynix, and Micron) will not only gradually kick off mass production of next-gen DDR5 products, but also continue to increase the penetration rate of LPDDR5 in the smartphone market in response to demand for 5G smartphones. With memory speed in excess of 4800Mbps, DDR5 DRAM can massively improve computing performances via their fast speed and low power consumption. As Intel releases its new CPUs that support DDR5 memory, with Alder Lake for the PC segment, followed by Eagle Stream for the server segment, DDR5 is expected to account for about 10-15% of DRAM suppliers’ total bit output by the end of 2022. Regarding process technologies, Samsung and SK hynix will kick off mass production of 1 alpha nm products manufactured with EUV lithography. These products’ market shares will likely increase on a quarterly basis next year.
Turning to NAND Flash products, their stacking technologies have yet to reach a bottleneck. Hence, after 176L products entered mass production in 2021, suppliers will continue to migrate towards 200L and above in 2022, although these upcoming products’ chip densities will remain at 512Gb/1Tb. Regarding storage interfaces, the market share of PCIe Gen4 SSDs will likely skyrocket in the consumer PC segment next year. In the server segment, as Intel Eagle Stream CPUs, which support PCIe Gen 5, enter mass production, the enterprise SSD market will also see the release of products that support this interface. Compared to the previous generation, PCIe Gen 5 features double the data transfer rate at 32GT/s and an expanded storage capacity for mainstream products at 4/8TB in order to meet the HPC demand of servers and data centers. Additionally, the release of PCIe Gen 5 SSDs is expected to quickly raise the average data storage capacity per server unit.
Regarding the server market, flexible pricing schemes and diverse services offered by CSPs have directly propelled the cloud service demand of enterprises in the past two years. From the perspective of the server supply chain, the predominant business model has gradually transformed from traditional server brands to ODM Direct, meaning that traditional server brands will see fundamental, structural changes, such as providing colocation servers or full-service cloud migration support, in their business models. This shift also means that enterprise clients will come to rely on more flexible pricing schemes and diverse risk mitigation measures in response to an uncertain global environment. In particular, while the pandemic accelerated changes in work and everyday life in 2020, hyperscalers are expected to account for nearly 50% of total demand for servers in 2022. In addition, the growth in ODM Direct server shipment is expected to surpass 10% YoY as well.
Mobile network operators will undertake more trial projects for 5G SA network slicing and low-latency applications
Mobile network operators have been actively release 5G SA (standalone) networks as the core network powering various services around the world, in turn accelerating the build-out of base stations in major cities, diversifying their network services (via network slicing and edge computing), and delivering end-to-end networks with a high degree of quality assurance. Moving to 2022, applications that are at the intersection of 5G, massive IoT, and critical IoT will emerge in response to enterprise demand. These applications, including light switches, sensors, and thermostats used in smart factories, involve the combination of network endpoints and data transmission. In particular, critical IoT applications include smart grid automation, telemedicine, traffic safety, and industrial automation, whereas critical IoT use cases within the context of Industry 4.0 include asset tracking, predictive maintenance, FSM (field service management), and logistics optimization.
Now that the pandemic has forced enterprises to engage in digital transformation and brought changes to the general public’s lifestyles, the importance of 5G deployment has become increasingly apparent. Private 5G networks, openRAN, unlicensed spectrums, and mmWave developments have also generated a diverse ecosystem that ranges from traditional mobile network operators to other emerging service providers, including OTT media service providers, CSPs, social media, and online businesses. In the future, mobile network operators will likely actively expand their enterprise 5G applications. For instance, O2’s 5G-ENCODE project explores new business models in industrial 5G networks, while Vodafone is collaborating with the MFM (Midlands Future Mobility) consortium to test networks for autonomous vehicles.
Satellite operators will compete over the low-earth orbit satellite market, with 3GPP now supporting non-terrestrial networks
3GPP recently announced that Release 17 Protocol Coding Freeze will take place in 2022. Release 17 represents the first time 3GPP has incorporated NTN (non-terrestrial network) communications into its releases and therefore marks a significant milestone for both the mobile communications industry and the satellite communications industry. Prior to this, mobile communications and satellite communications had been two separate, independently developing industries. That is why companies working across the two industries in the upstream, midstream, and downstream supply were generally different as well. After 3GPP includes NTN in its upcoming release, the two industries are likely to generate more opportunities for collaboration and co-create brand new innovations. Regarding the deployment of LEO (low earth orbit) satellites, US-based SpaceX has applied to launch the highest number of satellites among all satellite operators. Other major operators include Amazon, UK-based OneWeb, Canada-based Telesat, etc. Region-wise, US operators account for more than 50% of all satellites launched. Not only do LEO satellites have the advantage of signal coverage that is unaffected by geographical features, such as mountainous regions, oceans, and deserts, but they are also able to synergize with the 5G network. The ability of LEO satellites, as part of the NTN, to enhance 5G communications makes them a crucial component in the 3GPP Release 17. TrendForce therefore forecasts an increase in global satellite revenue in 2022.
While smart factories are among the first to leverage digital twins, IoT technologies are expected to become the backbone of the metaverse
The new normal that emerged in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic continues to propel demand for contactless devices and digital transformations. As part of this evolution, IoT development in 2022 will likely focus on CPS (cyber-physical systems), which combines 5G, edge computing, and AI technologies to extract and analyze valuable information from vast data streams for the purpose of smart automation and prediction. A current example of CPS applications is the digital twin, used for such verticals as smart manufacturing and smart cities; while CPS integration for the former facilitates design, testing, and manufacturing simulations, the latter make use of CPS to monitor significant assets and assist in policymaking. Now that industrial realities have become more complex, and the interplay between usage cases and equipment have increasingly demanded attention, digital twins will subsequently be deployed to a wider range of applications. Paired with 3D sensing, VR, and AR capabilities, IoT-based metaverse will likely emerge as a smart, complete, real-time, and safe mirror to the physical world, and the first application of IoT-based metaverse is expected to be smart factories. Ultimately, technological innovations in data collection (including visual, auditory, and environmental data via sensors), data analysis (via AI platform integration), and data integrity (via blockchains) will also emerge as a result of IoT development.
AR/VR equipment manufacturers aim to deliver fully immersive experiences via integration of additional sensors and AI processing
The COVID-19 pandemic has fundamentally changed the way people live and work. For enterprises, the pandemic not only accelerated their pace of digital transformation, but also increased their willingness to integrate emerging technologies into their existing operations. For instance, AR/VR adoption for applications such as virtual meetings, AR remote support, and virtual design has been on the rise recently. On the other hand, companies will likely focus on various remote interaction functionalities in virtual communities and online games as an important AR/VR market segment. TrendForce therefore believes that the AR/VR market will expand by a considerable margin in 2022 due to the falling retail prices of AR/VR hardware as well as the growing adoption of such hardware for various use cases. Furthermore, the market will also continue to pursue more realistic AR/VR effects, such as applications that feature more realistic images constructed by software tools or the creation of virtual responses from real-world data assisted by either AI processing or the integration of various sensors. For instance, eye-tracking functionalities will become an optional feature of consumer products released by Oculus and Sony. Apart from these examples, AR/VR solutions may even evolve to the point where they are able to provide partial haptic feedback to the user through controllers or other wearable devices in order to deepen user immersion.
A natural extension of autonomous driving technology, automated valet parking is set to resolve drivers’ pain points
As part of autonomous driving technology’s implementation aimed at improving everyday life, AVP (automated valet parking), an SAE level 4 driverless parking service, is expected to become an important optional function of high-end vehicles beginning in 2022. Relevant international standards are currently being drafted and are expected to facilitate the adoption of AVP going forward. However, since AVP systems differ according to vehicle specifications, they are subject to various restrictions related to driving conditions, including fixed/unfixed routes and private/public parking spaces, while parking lot conditions such as wireless network connectivity and the comprehensiveness of traffic markings can also affect the viability of AVP. The distance between people and the vehicle during AVP use, on the other hand, is governed by domestic laws. In view of automakers’ diverse technological roadmaps, AVP parking routes are generated by either local computing on the vehicle end or cloud computing, the latter of which requires sufficient network connectivity in order to function. The former is therefore expected to see usage in a wider variety of use cases. Alternatively, some vehicles may be equipped with both computing solutions. With other such factors as V2X and high-definition maps affecting the range of AVP applications, TrendForce expects an increasing number of different AVP solutions to be under development at the moment.
The third-generation semiconductor industry will move towards 8-inch wafers and new packaging technologies while expanding in production capacity
The gradual phasing out of ICE vehicles by various governments across the 2025-2050 period is set to both accelerate the pace of EV sales and increase the penetration rate of SiC and GaN devices/modules. Energy transition activities worldwide as well as the rapid growth of telecom applications such as 5G technology have also led to a persistent bull market for third-generation semiconductors, resulting in strong sales of SiC and Si substrates. However, as current efforts in substrate production and development are relatively limited, suppliers are able to ensure a steady yield of SiC and GaN substrates only by manufacturing them with 6-inch wafers. Such a limitation has, in turn, led to a long-term shortage in foundries’ and IDMs’ production capacities.
In response to this quandary, substrate suppliers, including Cree, II-VI, and Qromis, are now planning to not only expand their production capacities in 2022, but also migrate their SiC and GaN production to 8-inch wafers, in hopes that these plans will gradually alleviate the prevailing shortage in the third-generation semiconductor market. On the other hand, foundries such as TSMC and VIS are attempting to shift to 8-inch wafer fabrication for GaN on Si technology, while major IDM Infineon is releasing products based on the latest CoolSiC MOSFET, delivering trench designs that enable significant power efficiency for semiconductor devices. Finally, telecommunication component provider Qorvo has also released a new GaN MMIC copper flip chip packaging architecture for military applications.
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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