Growth in LED demand—driven by broad adoption of general lighting applications—is expected to come at a fast, furious and sustained pace which analysts predict may last for a few years before the market once again pauses.
The way I see it, the current lull in LED market growth actually may be a great opportunity for LED manufacturers: Those who invest in productivity improvements now, while there is still the luxury of time, could potentially benefit significantly and outpace their competitors during the next high growth cycles.
Below is a brief excerpt of my most recent article on LED manufacturing-execution systems in LEDs Magazine. While an MES for LED fabrication offers a vast array of functional possibilities, my advice is to start with an out-of-the-box solution.
“Lately we’ve been spending a lot of time with LED manufacturers who are looking to purchase a manufacturing software system. Some already have basic components of a system and want to round out their capability with additional features. Others have some disparate data systems and are looking toward an integrated manufacturing-execution system (MES) to provide some holistic data management, equipment management and manufacturing tracking.
There is a lot of easily accessible information available on the Internet, in trade magazines and at conferences and events to help rank MES providers and provide key points to consider during the purchase and implementation processes. This includes advice about handling the potential pitfalls and challenges of MES selection and deployment. However, I’d like to touch on just one very key point that is particularly important to the LED manufacturer: Focus on minimizing customization or feature improvements during initial MES deployment.”
A lot more news has been published recently about large LED wafer production. LEDs Magazine reported that Philips Lumileds and Lextar Electronics are now running production on 150-mm wafers and that there is another un-named Asian company using 150-mm sapphire wafers supplied by Rubicon Technology. Rubicon also recently announced the availability of 300-mm Sapphire wafers for LED production. All this makes me think that this is only the first wave in what will be a deluge of announcements for large wafer size production in LED.
These announcements got me thinking about the technology that will be required to support production on these larger size wafers. Is there something small wafer manufacturers can leverage to derive some of the benefits of the larger wafers before they actually transition to these in their factories?
Previously, I wrote about how LED manufacturers were striving to shorten the time between initiating the LED manufacturing process and measuring their performance in an effort to improve the product yields and possibly even boost LED performance.
Certainly one of the keys to making this possible is having rapid access to manufacturing data. There are many ways to gather data for analysis by the process engineers.
In his blog, James Moyne talked about Applied Materials’ software footprint as it relates to crystalline silicon (c-Si) solar production. James highlighted a specific scenario where advanced process control plays an important role in addressing issues associated with solar cell printing. As this type of technology becomes widely adopted, the c-Si solar industry will collectively improve processes and drive the quality and conversion efficiency of the product to new highs.
The LED manufacturing world has an interesting mix of semiconductor technology and c-Si manufacturing practices. This raises the question: can automation software be beneficial—and affordable—for LED production lines? The answer is YES, and I’ll begin to tell you why.