The Pressure is On: Pushing for Solid State Lighting to Reduce Global Energy Usage


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The Pressure is On: Pushing for Solid State Lighting to Reduce Global Energy Usage

Some 200 attendees from across the supply chain gathered at the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Solid State Lighting Manufacturing Workshop on April 21-22 in Virginia to start to hammer out a potential manufacturing initiative to bring down the costs of LEDs for general lighting to jumpstart the market. DOE targets the sector as one of the major ways to cut US energy consumption, while strengthening the US technology manufacturing sector.

DOE SSL program manager Jim Brodrick reported from the meeting that Stan Myers, president and CEO of SEMI, added valuable perspective to the discussions on how to “get from here to there." Myers said that he's convinced that the same manufacturing efficiencies that reduced semiconductor cost over the past three decades will enable high-brightness LEDs to penetrate the general purpose lighting market, and that industry collaboration— facilitated by standardization— is an important key. Myers observed that since 1975, manufacturing efficiencies have reduced the cost of semiconductors by a factor of 500—due in part to the development of manufacturing standards. He talked about studies that have shown the value of standardization to industrial growth. One of those studies, conducted by the German Institute for Standardization, concluded that standards contribute more to economic growth than patents and licenses.

SSL manufacturing today with highly proprietary processes running on 3” wafers, at throughputs of ~ 50 wafers per hour, with limited yields and limited equipment uptime, recalls the semiconductor industry in 1975 with its high proprietary processes on 2”-3” wafers, running 50 wafers per hour at ~50% yields and ~50% uptimes. Since then the semiconductor industry has achieved a 4,000,000x cost reduction, 500x of that from manufacturing efficiencies, thanks to10%-30% improvements in productivity and 10%-15% improvements in yield every year, and a 30%-50% increase in wafer size every 10-15 years (Hynix, ITPC, 2008). Manufacturing cost of flat panel displays and solar cells has followed a similar curve, for similar reasons.

Myers suggested that to efficiently reduce costs, the industry needed to actively engage with equipment manufacturers to develop cost efficient, high yielding tools, perhaps in a HB LED Manufacturing Forum, similar to those SEMI organized for the FPD industry in the 1990s, to facilitate discussion of things like a standards roadmap, technology priorities, and ways suppliers and customers could better work together. One of the initial suggested steps from the workshop was to move forward on such a forum.

Mike Hack of Universal Display Concepts talked about the significant technical progress made in OLEDs in recent years. He stated that the need now is for investment in a panel manufacturing facility. Hack said that the sooner we do that—maybe cooperatively-- the sooner we'll meet the challenging OLED cost goal.

Bob Harmon (Jabil) talked about contract manufacturing for SSL and said that Jabil is one of the largest electronic manufacturing services providers in the world. He showed a map of his company's 55 sites. Located in 21 countries, 11 sites are located in the U.S. He explained that low-skill labor costs are significantly cheaper in some countries (like China) while higher-skill labor costs are more consistent.

John Dexheimer of First Analysis Private Equity gave an investor's perspective. He encouraged companies to think “outside the box” about the structure of the SSL industry. Dexheimer discussed hurdles like dealing with the high initial cost and how to turn long LED lifetime from a liability into an asset.

The workshop emphasized the need to lower cost and increase quality to advance the SSL market. Attendees volunteered to become more involved in the process by offering to speak at the follow-up SSL workshop and working on specific issues for a “straw-man” SSL Manufacturing Roadmap. In addition, several working groups were formed.

The follow-up workshop is planned for June 24-25 in Vancouver, Washington. Check the DOE SSL website (http://www1.eere.energy.gov/buildings/ssl/conferences.html) for details.

The DOE will update the semiconductor supply chain on the progress and next steps for this manufacturing initiative as part of the Extreme Electronics SSL session on the key issue of improving LED manufacturing yields at SEMICON West. For more information opportunities and issues on this and other emerging markets, please visit the SEMICON West Extreme Electronics website or visit the SEMI website (http://www.semi.org/en/IndustrySegments/EmergingMarkets).

May 5, 2009