HB-LED Manufacturers are Working to Capture the Lighting Market


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HB-LED Manufacturers are Working to Capture the Lighting Market

Manufacturing techniques need to continue to improve to increase LED performance and reduce costs in order to reach the general illumination market.

by Aaron Hand

The prospect of more efficient and less toxic lighting is driving the high-brightness LED (HB-LED) market, which is expected to see 30% annual growth through 2014 and reaching $20 billion during that period, according to Strategies Unlimited (Mountain View, Calif.). To take full advantage of the opportunity that the illumination market has to offer, though, LED manufacturers will need to overcome some considerable cost and manufacturing challenges.

Investment banking firm Canaccord Genuity (formerly Canaccord Adams, Vancouver, Canada) has published an LED supply and demand model that predicts a significant increase in MOCVD equipment order activity and a base materials shortage in the LED industry’s second surge of market activity, which began in the 1990s and has been driven by LCD notebook and TV backlighting applications. (The first cycle, in the 1980s, consisted primarily of TV remote applications and low-end indicators).

The third LED market boom – geared toward solid-state lighting applications – is building now, and could hit full force around 2013, according to Jonathan Dorsheimer, principal, senior analyst at Canaccord Genuity. According to a report that Strategies Unlimited released in March, 2010, HB-LEDs have made their way into various niche lighting applications and are beginning to be used in white light applications in the general illumination market. Although lighting applications made up only 5% of the HB-LED market in 2007, lighting was one of the fastest growing segments from 2007 to 2010, and is forecast to grow to more than $7.3 billion by 2014.

High-brightness LEDs are beginning to penetrate the giant general illumination market. (Source: Philips Lumileds)

 

To tackle the general illumination market, manufacturers are getting help from the mainstream IC field to improve performance and lower costs. Several semiconductor players have jumped into the fray, including such equipment powerhouses as Applied Materials and KLA-Tencor, materials specialist Dow Electronic Materials, and memory manufacturers Samsung and Micron. On SEMICON West’s Extreme Electronics stage, Maria Mirianashvili, an analyst at Strategies Unlimited, and Canaccord’s Dorsheimer will present market analyses to kick off a full day of HB-LED sessions focused on front- and back-end manufacturing progress and challenges.

The morning session on front-end issues will include presentations from equipment suppliers Applied Materials, KLA-Tencor and Ultratech, as well Inlustra Technologies Inc., which provides gallium nitride (GaN) substrates, and Lattice Power, which makes silicon-based GaN LED chips. Benjamin Haskell, CEO of Inlustra Technologies, contends that limitations in the current manufacturing approaches for GaN-based laser diodes and LEDs have held back performance and created excessively high costs. Haskell will present an alternative substrate approach that uses nonpolar and semipolar GaN technology to bring costs down and improve performance.

The afternoon, which will be focused on back-end manufacturing processes, will start with a manufacturer’s perspective from Philips Lumileds. Decai Sun, senior manager of illumination product development, will give an overview of the manufacturer’s development of high-power white LEDs for general lighting. Significant progress has already been made in performance improvement and cost reduction, according to Sun, but further technologies are being developed to improve flux, efficiency, color control and quality, thermal management, reliability, and cost reduction.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy (DoE), back-end processing represents the largest cost associated with packaged LED manufacturing. As shown in the figure, cost is expected to come down significantly over the next several years, but packaging is expected to remain the largest fraction of cost.

EV Group is another equipment provider that is looking to lower LED costs and improve reliability in the LED field by transferring semiconductor know-how – in this case with a focus on packaging. Packaging accounts for 30% to 50% of the cost of HB-LED manufacturing, according to Thomas Urhmann, business development manager at EVGroup. He advocates a moved from die-level to wafer-level processes to reduce cost per lumen. Using established processing technologies from the MEMS and IC industries provides high reliability and yield, and the direct integration of the driver IC in the package. Urhmann will also discuss the use of through-silicon vias (TSV) to maximize the number of chips per wafer, and to improve heat conductance and therefore device performance..

The U.S. Department of Energy projects a cost reduction for packaged LEDs of about 20% per year. (Source: DoE Manufacturing Workshop)