When we heard that AUO’s SiPix (Hsinchu, Taiwan) had announced a delay delivering its mass produced 6- and 9-inch electrophoretic panel (EPH) modules to makers of e-book readers (EBRs), we decided to look a little deeper to understand why. We checked in with SiPix’s business development director Bryan Chan to learn more.
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According to the translation of the Chinese language Times article, SiPix is continuing to supply the much smaller RFID tag sized EPH displays for that market, but is apparently having some problems scaling up to larger 6- and 9-inch sized displays. According to the article, the issue relates to maintaining the static or fixed display state, which is a key characteristic of EPH technology.
Chan provided a "summary" of the translated SiPix report saying:
- Senior VP of AUO’s Consumer Products Business Unit, Dr. CT Liu, has now moved into the CEO position at SiPix full-time
- AUO has begun mass production of the 6- and 9-inch display products with 60% of the volume going to 6-inch models
- The bi-stability of the material (the ability to hold an image without power) was at issue and that the displays did not hold an image. It states that there was a material change to address this and that requalification is happening in Q2.
Chan told us he couldn’t officially comment on this last point, and that we should "go with the translated news story." He did emphasize that mass production of the display modules has not been affected, just the delivery of product to both BenQ and Acer while the "new material" goes through a final round of qualification by those vendors.
While the requalification of the 6" and 9" panels is set to occur in Q2, Chan said they are still on track to hit their 2M to 2.5M displays this year with 60% going to the 6-inch modules and the other 40% of production shared between the 9-inch modules and the much smaller RFID / Shelf label products.
There is probably more going on here than meets the eye. Loss of bi-stability can be caused by problems with the front plane or backplane. And, to say the requalification will not impact mass production of the display modules really means for customers other than BenQ or Acer. By having to requalify the panel, that will impact shipments to these customers and delay the introduction of EBR products in the market. However, it does appear that the problem showed up early in the production ramp, so it may be possible to make up for this delay as the year rolls on. At least this seems like a plausible explanation for a somewhat tangled story.
In previous conversations with the company, we do know that many months ago, there were issues with wave forms and update speeds, but the bi-stability of the material was never at issue–and always considered one of the display technology’s strengths. In fact, here’s a rundown of some of the strengths of the SiPix technology, as reported in our 2009 Insight Media EBR Report:
- Very rugged, due to rib microcup structure, so it is pressure insensitive
- Slightly darker black state than E Ink, so it has higher contrast
- Low-level multiplexing, otherwise parasitic crosstalk for smaller pixels
- Can fill cavities with separate colors to produce full color as additive or subtractive mode for high brightness
- Compatible with R2R manufacturing, for lower cost
- Low cost - suitable for price-sensitive applications, including smart cards and USB and Flash drive memories.
If anything, the news helps to underscore the difficulty that display makers face in moving from prototype display to full (mass) production with acceptable yields that create profit for the company. (Chan would not comment on specific numbers, he did say "…the yields are pretty good.") And even while this display module delay for the SiPix vendors may help bolster the E Ink dominance in the space in the short term (as well as help keep their Vizplex prices high) long term, a second supplier of EPH display material will only help benefit the entire EBR market.