Printed Electronics in Korea

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Printed Electronics in KoreaIDTechEx recently visited Korea to learn more about the progress with Printed Electronics there. Japan is well know for its printed electronics activities, from electronics companies such as Sony and Panasonic to paper and electronic companies such as Toppan Forms and Dai Nippon Printing. Korea as well as having major conglomerates involved in printed electronics, such as Samsung and LG, also has many smaller and start-up companies involved in the topic, unlike Japan.

In printed electronics, Korea is particularly strong in product manufacture and equipment manufacture, less so in materials, which are usually sourced from outside the country. Companies in Korea are among the World leaders in displays predominately, followed by photovoltaics, organic TFTs and equipment manufacture – particularly ink-jet printing. A wide range of materials are being explored, for example, of the dozen organizations we visited, many reported that they are working on printing copper, as a replacement to silver.

Korean government to launch huge PE Fund
IDTechEx learnt that the Korean government will be making a substantial investment in printed electronics this year or early next year. The figure, as yet confidential, will be a nine-figure amount.

The government will ask for industry in some cases to match the investment. In addition, Korea hosts its own association for printed electronics – KOPEA, with approximately 70 member companies and 40 other member institutions (such as academics).

Government funded programs on printed electronics exist under KIMM (focussed on machinery for printed electronics), ETRI (focussed on transistors) and others. The Government backing overall is substantial.

Successful application to electronics manufacture
IDTechEx learnt of many instances of printed electronics being applied within conventional electronics manufacture. For example, Samsung Electro-Mechanics, a subsidiary of Samsung that is focussed on manufacturing inkjet print heads, has deployed inkjet systems to print the colour filters for liquid crystal displays.

This has been done by others too such as Sharp in Japan, using print heads from Seiko Epson. Now Samsung Electro-Mechanics has gone further and are developing inkjet printers that print the liquid crystal itself – saving money because less material is used.

For solar cells, inkjet printers are being used for printing the masking pattern, dopant printing and electrodes. As silicon solar cells become thinner and thinner non-contact means of material deposition is preferred to avoid the silicon breaking. Here, we were told, the uptake of inkjet printing is very rapid. Unijet, a supplier of inkjet printers report strong business in many of these markets, for example.

In addition, supercapacitors are also another application, with screen printing reaching a limit in terms of performance and size of the capacitor – these are now beginning to be made using gravure printing which allows for thinner layers. All of this adds up to a market of tens of millions of dollars for printers used in commercial processes today – and growing rapidly.

We believe that companies such as InkTec and Exax both have profitable sales and are growing rapidly – both are mainly in the business of printing reflectors for displays, conductors for touchscreens, some RFID tag antennas and other applications.

In printed electronics in Korea, most paths lead to Samsung and LG. Both have commercialised OLEDs made on glass in vacuum processes – and both are working on printed versions, including new TFT backplane technology (predominately OTFT and metal oxides, although carbon nanotubes are of interest).

Both are involved in electro-phoretic displays (EPDs), where the goal is colour displays with refresh rates that can show simple video. LG has acquired Korean company I&M that has developed a colour EPD front plane and recently Samsung acquired Liquavista, a spin out of Phillips.

Printed Electronics World will shortly feature a detailed article on Samsung. Konkuk University in Seoul has a Flexible Display Center which develops and tests flexible displays. The leader of the group, Prof Shin, will be presenting their work at the IDTechEx Printed Electronics Europe conference in Dusseldorf on April 5-6

Konkuk University has also recently established an OPV/DSSC lab in collaboration with Fraunhofer ISE in Germany. The lab was founded in 2008 and is developing and testing OPV and DSSC type solar cells.

In Japan Sony and Sharp already sell DSSC cells and in Korea Dongjin, a chemical company, have a pilot line and have begun to make some. Prof. Chan, leader of the group, told IDTechEx that they see one of the biggest problems as having consistent material – the semiconductor from the same supplier has variations from batch to batch and this is common across the industry, he tells us. Samsung and LG make silicon-PV cells commercially so far.

ETRI is the largest government funded research institute in Korea, with 2000 people. Their transistor printed electronics team has 16 people, with the focus being RFID and display TFT backplanes.

They are primarily working on organic semiconductors but are considering other candidates, including metal oxides in solution. ETRI has demonstrated a 1 bit printed RFID tag operating to 13.56MHz. They have developed their own Read Only Memory (ROM) and intend to show a 16bit RFID tag shortly and One Time Programmable (OTP) memory over the next 2-3 years. Using new materials the group this year will address printing 900MHz diodes.

By printing they have made arrays of 400 transistors to a resolution of less than 50 microns. For their TFT backplanes they target LCD displays, replacing the current aSi TFTs, and then later OLEDs. ETRI are working on vertical geometry transistors. They also work with Prof Cho at Sunchon University, who is developing printed RFID tags using carbon nanotubes. Prof Cho will be presenting and demonstrating these at the IDTechEx Printed Electronics Europe event .

OLED Lighting
Another government initiative, KETI, is currently focussing on OLED lighting. The aim is make a 5 gen OLED light panel using evaporation processes. IDTechEx learnt that one of the forerunners in Korea for this is LG Chemical, who is working on devices on glass.

A contingent of companies from Korea working on OLED lighting will be hosting an invitation only meeting at the IDTechEx Printed Electronics Europe event . If you are involved in OLED lighting please contact Raghu Das for further details.

Progress at Samsung will be covered in a separate report on Printed Electronics World shortly. IDTechEx frequently visit companies around the World so that we can help you to understand your opportunities in many geographies.

Please contact us if you seek advice. The annual Printed Electronics Europe event – Europe’s largest – in Düsseldorf on April 5-6 – will feature many speakers, exhibitors and attendees from Asia, a territory of vital impact on the topic. See  for details of how to register and meet them.

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