Nov 25, 2016: The reduced growth in LED backlight market including smartphone displays, continued throughout 2016, which compelled top players in the LED industry to take a note of it, and decide a new strategy for 2017. Nichia is one such company, which has decided to focus on new areas in 2017.
At a press conference in Taipei recently, Nichia announced that due to oversupply and price wars in 2015, most of the top LED players are facing severe competition in the LED backlight market. The growth of the market has also started declining from the beginning of 2016, compelling the LED manufacturers to explore other niche lighting application areas, such as automotive lighting, IR LED, UV LED, etc.
Nichia’s business strategies for 2017
Chun Chia Tai, Chairman and President of Nichia’s Shanghai and Taiwan offices said that in 2017, Nichia will focus on human-centric smart LED lighting, intelligent automotive headlight applications, micro-LEDs, lasers, and UV LED technologies. To continue advancements in different lighting technologies, Nichia will invest about 40 billion Japanese Yen in 2017
Focus on Micro-LED
Takashi Sakamoto, Principal Technical Officer of Optoelectronics Products, Nichia, said that unlike other players in the industry, Nichia believes that soon micro-LEDs will move from smaller devices to larger display applications.
He contradicted what recently players like CEA-LETI and Epistar said that micro-LED will see its application in smaller displays like wearables and smartphones. In these areas, micro-LED has more advantage over OLED and LCD due to its properties like less energy consumption, brighter and more efficient illumination output, and self-illumination.
Takashi Sakamoto said that micro-LED applications would start with large TV displays, outdoor displays, indoor displays, monitors, and then get into smartphones, VR devices and smart watches. This belief, he said, is based on his perceptions about the market value and micro-LED technology. Since the wearable market value is less than the display and backlight market, micro-LED will see applications in these areas first. Moreover, he pointed out that display and backlight markets have larger market share than the wearable market.
Chun Chia Tai pointed out that technology wise it would be easier to make micro-LEDs for large displays first and then for smaller displays due to the size requirements for different applications, because the smaller the display the tinnier the micro-LED chip would be. While displays might use 30-40 micrometer sized micro-LEDs, smartphone screens would require 3 micrometer, he added. He said Nichia aims to mass produce 3 micrometer sized micro-LEDs.
Takashi Sakamoto explained that Nichia’s micro-LEDs uses RGB LEDs, and it develops most of the solutions in-house. He pointed out that the company might not develop mass transfer solutions for the chips. “It will take more than three years for micro-LED technology to fully mature, in the meantime you might see end products or applications with rudimentary micro-LED technology emerge on the market by 2017,” he added.
Developing UV-C LED
Although Nichia is successful in UV-A LED application sector, it is still working on 280 nanometer wavelength UV-C LEDs for water sanitization applications, which will have longer lifetimes. Nichia is also working to improve UV-C LED’s durability. The company believes that UV LED products would be increasingly used in home appliances like air conditioners, air purifiers, etc.
Laser business is still small
According to Sakamoto, the application of laser light in the automotive sector is still small and market penetration is quite low. Although Audi and Benz have started using laser lights as headlights, Japanese car manufacturers have not yet started using this advanced technology. He explained that laser headlights have a beam distance of 600m and above. Demand for such an advanced headlight is still rare in Japan.
Despite these limitations, Sakamoto feels that the laser lighting market will grow with demands picking up by 2018. As a result, Nichia is getting ready to penetrate the market.
Nichia has started mass producing 4-chip LED packaged headlights. It is also producing 3 mm LED packages for daylight running lights (DRL).
Nichia’s automotive lighting revenue is estimated to reach 55 billion Japanese Yen by 2016 end, which will double in the future, while its laser lighting business would triple or quadruple, Sakamoto added. For laser technology, Nichia revenue share will be 5% in 2017, which will grow to 17% by 2020.
The company will also focus on human-centric LED lighting. Demand for human-centric lighting and luminaries with high color quality performance will significantly increase in 2017, said Sakamoto. The company will develop human centric lighting with color switching, and warm color temperature 2000-2200K LED.
Nichia’s is also developing LED grow lights, and conducting studies to find out the most suitable LED lighting spectrum for plants.