This feature first appeared in +Plastic Electronics issue 4.3, published in November 2011. For even more high-value content on the plastic electronics industry, subscribe to +Plastic Electronics magazine.
Since its launch in 2003, Germany-headquartered Novaled has established itself as a central part of the plastic electronics industry.
In OLED displays, one of the first significant markets to emerge for plastic electronics, Novaled is a key partner for all the Asian display market leaders.
Since being founded in 2001 (becoming operational 2003), Novaled has become part of the supply chain for OLED manufacturing in this rapidly expanding market.
In September 2011 the company's position as a leading firm in the OLED supply chain was confirmed with the announcement of investment from Samsung Venture Investment.
The backing of the investment arm of Samsung, the biggest supplier of OLED displays, is another indication of the growth potential in the OLEDs industry, as well as confirmation of Novaled's central role in the flourishing displays market.
Now the company is helping push OLED lighting, the next big commercial development for plastic electronics, to market.
The company recently launched its own venture, Liternity, to market a range of OLED lighting products.
The venture made its first product - an OLED table lamp called 'Victory' - available to the market in September 2011.
The Victory is a two-arm lamp split in a 'V' shape, with each arm holding two OLED panels. The 35cm-high lamp is made of exclusive carbon fabric, coming in a range of finishes and colours.
Novaled's decision to create a new brand to carry its OLED lighting products is a change in strategy from its role in other emerging areas of the plastic electronics industry.
While the company acts as supplier to the brand owner companies in the displays industry, and is likely to do the same in organic photovoltaics - another area of interest for Novaled - Liternity presents another approach altogether.
The launch of its own brand comes at a time when the OLED lighting industry is on the cusp of commercialisation, it seems.
A handful of companies have released products on the market, or have announced intentions to do so.
These include France headquartered firm Blackbody, which launched products in 2010, including a 282- OLED chandelier called 'The Big Bang' (although this was available only on special request).
Meanwhile Mitsubishi Chemical partnered with Japanese firm Pioneer to launch OLED lighting products through Mitsubishi subsidiary Verbatim in February 2010.
When it made colour-tunable OLED lighting panels available in May 2011, Verbatim and Mitsubishi Chemical became one of a small group of OLED panel suppliers involved in the commercial market - a group that includes Philips, Osram and Lumiotec.
However Novaled's launch of its own brand of OLED lighting products puts it at the centre of the latest developments in OLED commercialisation.
Alongside companies like Acuity Brands, which is shipping OLED lighting products in Q1 2012, it seems there will be further, significant progress in the OLED lighting market in 2012.
By launching its own OLED lighting product range, Novaled can help foster the growth of OLED products in a role further up the supply chain, as well as exploiting the opportunity to create a new brand in an open but highly promising technology field.
'We're doing this to push the lighting business as a whole. There is nothing better than getting a product on the market so people can see them, touch them and ultimately, hopefully, buy them. We want to create a shock in what can be a conservative lighting market,' explains Gildas Sorin, CEO of Novaled.
The company is in the process of securing a sales network of select distributors that match the premium nature of the product and can help the company access its target audience - wealthy early adopters and businesses looking to enhance their futuristic or sustainable image, says Sorin.
'We have started to launch the product in September. We felt the introduction of OLED lighting should happen with a luxury product,' he comments. 'It won't be sold via the Internet or in general stores - instead we are selecting specific dealers.'
'We have distributor companies in Germany and are in discussions with some potential distributors in the UK too.
'There are distribution channels in the Middle East and in the US - starting with Miami, Florida, with other locations to follow - so there could be quite a few sales points for the Victory.'
While the product will be a high-end lamp, expected to retail at around €4,998, Novaled's motivation for pushing the technology to market is a belief that OLED lighting can grow far beyond this initial segment.
'We see a revolution coming in lighting because of the design opportunity: you don't have to have a light point, or a light line; you can have a light surface, which can even be transparent or bended,' Sorin remarks.
'In 2014 we see OLED lighting really taking off. We will put some products on the market in the meantime, to wake people up to the possibilities of OLED and to push the technology further.'
Novaled's launch of its own lighting brand owner venture extends the company's already wide coverage of the plastic electronics value chain.
The company works on both the chemistry for OLED materials and the physics of composing an OLED stack, for instance, where other companies may specialise in just one aspect of an OLED device.
'The performance on an OLED relies on the way that you combine the materials. By keeping these developments under the same roof, so they are closely linked, we can develop the technology to extract the maximum performance from our materials,' Sorin notes.
It is this bridge between materials and device knowledge that has giventhe company an edge in the OLED supply chain, according to Novaled.
Tablets and televisions
'If an OLED manufacturer has a specification for a stack, for instance, and a chemical company is focused on the material it is difficult to know how the specific material will interact with the others in the stack. You can't separate the two topics - and the big display and lighting corporations see the benefits of this,' Sorin adds.
Having established itself as a supplier in the already maturing OLED displays market - which is set to grow in 2012 following investment in manufacturing by the biggest South Korean display firms - Novaled is expecting its involvement in OLED lighting and organic photovoltaics (OPVs) to bear fruit in the coming years too.
'These are three big business fields for us, promising multibillion dollar returns. The displays market has already started with mobile displays and televisions can be expected to follow next year,' he comments.
The upgrade of facilities at LG and Samsung - to Gen. 8 and Gen. 5.5 respectively - opens the possibility for OLED displays to be scaled for use in tablet computers and televisions.
Samsung's $2.6 billion (€1.9 billion) facility went into mass-production in May 2011, while LG is expected to be testing its production line for OLED backlit LCDs later in 2011.
These manufacturing facilities could be used for both tablet displays and 55-inch televisions, suggesting that this market is likely to grow exponentially in 2012-13.
'Samsung publicly mentioned that the OLED displays business will multiply by 10 next year. There's no reason why Novaled can't do that as well,' says Sorin.
While Novaled's latest efforts underline its vision of an approaching OLED lighting market too, Sorin admits that OPVs could be a longer term endeavour for the company's plastic electronics market development.
'The difference between solar cells and lighting is that by bringing some design aspect to lighting you can play on the emotion of the customer - which can be linked to the price,' he explains.
'With OPVs you can't really draw this sort of emotional response from the device, so entering the market is a bit more complex.
'For solar cells we prefer to stay in the role of supplier of technology and materials - there's no need to push the market as there is with an OLED lighting product.'
Part of the long-term growth of the OPV market will rely on the development of suitable processes for printed, plastic electronics, an area Novaled is working on keenly.
There are opportunities to simplify the manufacturing processes for products like OLEDs, for instance in roll-to- roll printing and low temperature processing.
Viable systems for simple, cheap technologies are being eagerly sought by many developers, in order to make plastic electronics even more competitive in the commercial electronics field. Novaled is working with manufacturing tool firms including Aixtron in Germany and Sunic in South Korea.
'We are working on the engineering for these devices and are in close contact with the manufacturing tool makers to ensure our materials are compatible with the next generation of tools,' Sorin predicts.
'Today electronics are printed on pieces of glass or metal; tomorrow that substrate will be a piece of plastic.'
For the near-term, however, Novaled's focus is on its new OLED lighting business, as it seeks to get this market moving. And although the company is keen to get OLED lighting products on the market to gain exposure for the emerging technology, it remains committed to its role as supplier for the plastic electronics industry, rather than seeking to become an OEM.
'Launching Liternity to make OLED products was a decision that we took extremely seriously. We want to be a pioneer in this field though, not to become the new Osram or Philips,' Sorin explains.
'We are the biggest OLED materials provider and our goal is to consolidate that position in the coming years.'
As Novaled's three markets for plastic electronics materials grow in the future, the capacity for growth and profit will be clear for a company that has been involved in so much of the commercial plastic electronics industry so far.
One option to fund this growth is for Novaled to become a public company, according to Sorin.
'We're contemplating the idea of going public. The company has to be ready for the growth of the OLED displays industry,' he states.
'However, with the market being so turbulent we may need to wait. If the market is more reasonable next year, who can say?'
For Novaled, the overriding goal is to become established in an industry that is only going to get bigger - whether that is driven by displays, lighting or solar.
'This is Novaled's opportunity to enter the OLED lighting market, as we have done with the OLED displays market,' says Sorin.
'Once a company has entered in this way, it is not easy to be replaced.'
This feature first appeared in +Plastic Electronics issue 4.3. For even more high-value content on the plastic electronics industry, subscribe to +Plastic Electronics magazine.
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