Exploring the Future of Touch Screen Panel Technologies

Last month, Applied Materials hosted a touch screen panel (TSP) workshop in Germany near the company’s Alzenau technology and development center. The objective was to bring together experts in academia, customers and suppliers from around the world to discuss the materials, tool and technology innovations needed to drive growth for the TSP market. I was very pleased to see that it fulfilled this purpose with a full-hearted exchange of information and ideas on the high-value problems requiring our combined and collaborative focus.  

The two-day workshop included a series of technical talks, discussion sessions and events. The main focus throughout centered on meeting growing consumer demand for flexible and larger size touch screens for laptops and TVs. These types of displays require thinner, higher performance touch panels at more affordable costs.  To achieve this, the industry is evaluating a variety of new materials and technologies to improve or replace the transparent conductive material, indium tin oxide (ITO) used to manufacture the smart touch technology used today.  This also influences substrate choices to accommodate thinner, flexible and/or bendable displays.

Major candidate technologies that include metal mesh, silver nanowire, carbon nanotube-, carbon nanobud-, graphene- and polymer-based materials, as well as traditional ITO, were discussed.  This enabled all participants to more critically understand the transition options and issues. With new devices and sizes emerging, some of these alternative technologies have the potential to gain momentum, depending on specific requirements. There is also a trend that is splitting the market between high-end and low-end products which is driving efforts to further reduce manufacturing cost.

Several key takeaways from the workshop worth highlighting are:

  • Touch panel demand remains healthy, continuing to be dominated by smartphones and tablets
  • Driving down costs of the end-products, touch panel now represents the tall pole in the tent
  • Largest cost drivers in touch panel production are substrate and patterning
  • Multiple cost reduction paths for ITO:  One-glass solution on larger area displays, low-temp ITO integration into existing display components (e.g. color filter, polarizer), increasing adoption of ITO on roll-to-roll film substrates (for ITO, key is reducing / eliminating substrate cost)
  • New cost reduction opportunities:  integration of next generation materials (Ag nanowire, metal mesh, graphene, carbon nanotubes) on film-based substrates.  These technologies provide great promise for reducing deposition and patterning costs, but more work needs to be done to achieve the required quality (conductivity and transparency) and yield
  • New flexible displays are clearly on the horizon and will benefit from these next-generation technologies as they mature.

These conclusions acknowledge the industry is approaching several inflections including segmentation shifts in the balance between quality and cost, the emergence of exciting new technologies and the promise of more flexible displays that will require new manufacturing and integration processes.  At Applied, we remain committed to offering technologies that will enable these next-generation displays and TSPs to help ensure growth of the overall display panel market.  This workshop provided the opportunity to align industry roadmaps across the value chain to see how we can develop the best solutions.

Innovation workshops are part of Applied’s strategic focus on technology inflections, organized by the office of the CTO working with Display, Web and Applied Ventures to provide a venue for intensified collaboration to accelerate the process of identifying new areas for growth and achievement. The next CTO display workshop is scheduled for January 2014 in Alzenau, Germany where attendees will discuss new opportunities for roll-to-roll processing.    

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