As PDP Shipments Surge, DuPont Remains Bullish on the Future of PDPs with Release of Next Generation of Fodel Paste

To borrow a line from Mark Twain, the reports of the impending death of the plasma-display panel (PDP) have been greatly exaggerated. And that suits companies that supply materials for the manufacture of the panels, such as DuPont, just fine.

For the past several years, as liquid-crystal-display (LCD) panels gobbled up market share and grew ever larger in size, it seemed as if it were only a matter of time before plasma panels could be relegated to the dustbins of technology history.

But according to the latest data released in January by market-research firm DisplaySearch, plasma panel shipments enjoyed a tremendous rebound at the end of 2007. DisplaySearch reported that for the second consecutive quarter, PDP shipments set a new record in Q4 2007 with almost 4.4 million units, a 42% increase from the previous quarter and a 62% increase from the same quarter in 2006. This was driven by several factors, including:

• A greater availability of 1080p resolution plasma panels, which accounted for 11% of all PDP shipments, a 46% increase from Q3 2007 and a 1300% jump from Q4 2006.
• Pricing: 42-inch HD PDP panels cost 20% less than comparable LCDs, and PDP pricing is falling faster each quarter than comparable LCD panel sizes.
• 32-inch PDPs selling well in developing regions, helping that size to more than double its share of PDP shipment to nearly 11%.
• Generally better plasma panel availability than LCD going into the holiday season.

This is good news not just for the PDP makers themselves, but all the companies that supply materials for the manufacture of the plasma panels. One such company, DuPont Microcircuit Materials, announced in January that Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. (MEI), the largest supplier of plasma panels according to DisplaySearch, adopted the newest DuPont Fodel® 8th Generation (8G) photoimageable thick-film pastes in its latest line of Panasonic VIERA® Plasma televisions.

These DuPont Fodel® 8G pastes are used in the metallization of the PDP front bus electrodes in order to improve image quality and achieve substantial cost savings through dramatically reduced precious metal content. Specifically, the 8G pastes have eliminated ruthenium, a metal garnered during the mining of platinum, by replacing the ruthenium pyrochlore-based black pigments used in previous generations of the Fodel® system with a novel and proprietary black pigment system based entirely on lower cost metals. This has been accomplished while simultaneously improving the overall system's performance including resistivity, blackness, processing margin and latitude, and cycle time.

According to Marc Doyle, business director for Dupont Microcircuit Materials for Asia, the market for ruthenium exploded about 18 months ago after the material began to be used in perpendicular magnetic recording hard disk drives, driving the price from about $80 per troy ounce to about $800 per troy ounce. The price has since come down to about $400 per troy ounce.

"Suddenly the cost of ruthenium became this huge issue for the PDP guys," Doyle explained. "The price of our paste went up 4X, and obviously price increases in PDP [manufacturing] is not a good thing, so we suffered a tremendous amount of pressure."

The elimination of the ruthenium cuts the cost of the black paste in half, to about $5 per panel for a 42-inch TV, which represents 2 percent of the total cost of the panel. This is one of a number of cost-reduction efforts taking place throughout the PDP industry; others include the total elimination of indium tin oxide (ITO)—which has already been done in one 32-inch model from LG Electronics—and the adoption of offset printing of the bus and address rather than screen printing, a step which Samsung has taken with its P4 line. These are among the reasons that DuPont remains bullish on PDPs.

"We believe that the PDP TV market will continue to grow, at least for the next few years," Doyle added. "We think we'll get to a market of at least 30 million to 35 million panels a year because the price points will continue to come down and more consumers will opt for large panel-size TVs."

"Once [PDP manufacturers] build these plants, they don't have a lot of incentive to stop running them, particularly in a big market like this—that is why there is so much focus on cycle time," Doyle added. "They are driving down materials cost as viciously as possible so they can operate the plants at very low cost. When they are in a position in a few years to churn out plasma panels for $100 each, they will be very competitive with LCD even as LCD continues to invest and expand."

— Michael Morgenthal


Renesas, Sharp and Powerchip Semi Announce Joint Venture for Small- and Mid-Size LCD Components

TOKYO - Renesas Technology Corp., Sharp Corp. and Powerchip Semiconductor Corp. (PSC) announced in February an agreement to establish a joint venture specializing in drivers and controllers for small- and mid-size LCDs. Consolidating the business operations of Renesas Technology and Sharp in this field, the new company will engage in the design, development, sales and marketing of LCD drivers and controllers, according to a press release. Business operations related to these products will be transferred to the new company starting April 2008 for Renesas Technology, and by the end of fiscal 2008 for Sharp. The new company will begin full operations on April 1, 2008.

The new company, called Renesas SP Drivers Inc., is a fabless semiconductor manufacturer. Powerchip Semiconductor, one of the investors in the new company, will handle most of the actual production, using its ultrafine process technology and production cost competitiveness, according to the press release. It has capita of ´5 billion and 170 employees. Renesas owns 55% of the company, Sharp owns 25% and PSC owns 20%.

In recent years, the market for LCD panels has grown exponentially, due to the growing popularity of LCD TVs, mobile phones with higher quality displays, and the use of LCDs in products such as car navigation systems and game consoles. The market growth for small- and mid-size LCDs is expected to be especially strong because of the emergence of mobile phones. More mobile phones are required to support sophisticated multimedia capabilities such as built-in digital cameras and reception of TV programs to enable the mobile phones' advanced functionality and higher picture quality standard. In addition, the demand for mobile phones is also accelerating in emerging markets such as the BRICs economies, notably China and India. As these conditions generate heavy demand for integration of driver and controller functions for small- and mid-size LCDs, market competition is expected to become increasingly fierce due to intensifying price competition and the emergence of fabless manufacturers overseas.

To respond to such growing competition, the three companies have agreed to establish a joint venture in order to realize improved cost competitiveness, increased design capabilities, more attractive products, and expanded sales.

By maximizing its strengths as a fabless semiconductor manufacturer, the new company will strive to achieve stable growth in the field of drivers and controllers for small- and mid-size LCDs.

—Staff Reports


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