With its excellent display characteristics, OLED has become one of the most popular technologies in the next generation of new display technology. Domestic panel companies are scrambling to follow up the layout. At present, the domestic OLED production line has exceeded half of the global total. In the face of domestic OLED production capacity, metal mask, as the core material in the production process of OLED panel, will also usher in huge market opportunities.

Core consumables that determine yield and quality of products

With the increasing variety of terminal electronic products, the demand for display screen is also higher and higher, and the flat panel display industry is constantly adapting to its changes. At present, major panel manufacturers are strengthening investment in OLED panel production lines. As of February 2020, a total of 25 OLED production lines have been built in the world, including 13 in China. According to the prediction of WitsView, by 2021, the monthly capacity of OLED production lines in China will exceed 450000 pieces, accounting for 26% of the global capacity.

Sui Xin, President of Shandong Aolai electronics, told China Electronic News: “each OLED 6-generation line consumes about 200 sets of metal mask every year. China’s OLED production lines are still increasing, and the market space of OLED metal mask is very large.”

With the acceleration of the overall investment speed of the OLED panel industry, the OLED industry chain is expanding rapidly. Many enterprises are optimistic about the development prospect of the OLED industry and will increase the investment in the mask industry from 2018.

In August 2018, Lianchuang Electronics announced that it would invest in the construction of high-precision metal mask project; in January 2019, the foundation of Qingyi optoelectronics 8.5 generation and below high-precision mask project was laid; in December 2019, Shandong Aolai Electronics announced that it would invest in the production of metal mask, and the annual output value is expected to reach 2 billion yuan after the completion of the three stages; at the end of 2019, huancaixing technology began to carry out high-precision metal mask (FMM) )Project construction: in June 2020, lemeng precision technology will invest 200 million yuan to expand the OLED metal mask production line project; in August 2020, Junying photoelectric OLED high precision metal mask production line and CVD mask project will be put into operation, and the annual output value is expected to reach 5 billion yuan.

With the acceleration of the overall investment speed of OLED panel industry, OLED industry chain is expanding rapidly

“If evaporation is the heart of OLED, then the metal mask is the essence of evaporation.” Sui Xin said that the metal mask is an indispensable high-value core production consumables in the OLED evaporation process, which needs to be replaced regularly and the production cost is high. Its main material is metal or metal + resin. Its main function is to deposit RGB organic matter and form pixels in the process of OLED production, and deposit organic matter accurately and finely where needed. It is very important in the process of OLED panel production, which determines the yield and resolution of OLED screen production.

It is understood that the metal mask used in AMOLED products is mainly shadow mask based on metal, including CMM and FMM. Among them, CMM, or open mask, is mainly used in the production process of large-size OLED panels; FMM, or high-precision metal mask, is mainly used in the manufacturing process of small and medium-sized OLED panels.

Industry insiders said that as more OLED panel production lines are put into production and mass production is realized, the demand for metal mask in China’s flat panel display industry will also increase year by year. The demand is expected to increase by 50% in three years.

Domestic manufacturers speed up FMM layout

At present, metal mask manufacturers are mainly concentrated in Japan and South Korea, such as Nippon Printing Co., Ltd., relief printing Co., Ltd., ponngwon Chemical Co., Ltd., sewoo reproduction, etc. However, there are few domestic enterprises involved in the production of metal mask, and most of them focus on the production of CMM products. Although some manufacturers have begun to dabble in FMM products, they are still in the stage of testing and development, and have not yet achieved mass production.

“Although China is the market with the largest demand, the quality of domestic metal masks still needs to be improved. Previous products are more used in the low-end market, and the metal masks and high-precision metal masks used in large-size OLED panels of 8 generations and above are still mainly imported products.” Liu Huang, senior analyst of CCID, said in an interview with China electronic news.

Sui Xin believes that the industrialization of OLED in Japan and South Korea was earlier, and metal mask manufacturers began to set foot in the industrial support very early, taking the lead in the industry and having obvious advantages in technology accumulation. As a latecomer of domestic metal mask manufacturers, it is difficult to surpass their accumulated years of production technology, can only produce some small size and low precision metal mask.

According to omedia, a research institute, the high-precision metal mask market will grow at a compound annual growth rate of 38%, from US $234 million in 2017 to US $1.2 billion in 2022.

Wu Bin, deputy general manager of huancaixing technology, said that OLED panel manufacturers are actively promoting the diversification of suppliers, and mask manufacturers need to speed up the production line and seize the opportunity. After mass production of large-size and high-precision metal mask (FMM), manufacturers will open up more market space in China.

Zhu Haibin, senior senior researcher of electronic materials and devices, told China Electronics News that FMM is a metal sheet thinner than paper. In the corresponding area of the display screen, millions of holes need to be etched by semiconductor process equipment. These holes are not only small, but also have exquisite arrangement and irregular shape. The three primary colors of red, yellow and blue need to be densely, regularly and evenly evaporated on the substrate through three different sets of FMM, so the quality of the mask directly determines the quality of the display product.

In addition, because FMM is thinner than paper, it is easy to be affected by gravity, pressure, magnetic force and other stresses in the process of production and use, especially in the production of large-size FMM. FMM not only has creep behavior under stress, but also has thermal expansion due to heat release of organic materials.

“FMM production is extremely difficult. Even with the most sophisticated semiconductor process equipment, without long-term, tens of thousands of experiments and parameter accumulation, we still can’t produce a qualified FMM. ” Wu Bin said.

High concentration of upstream material suppliers

With the development of mobile terminals such as mobile phones and tablet computers towards higher definition, color saturation and thinner, the higher the resolution and PPI of OLED screen, the more refined the metal mask.

If high-precision FMM needs to be manufactured, a more advanced invar alloy (Fe Ni Co alloy) – Super invar alloy is needed. The biggest characteristic of this material is that the coefficient of expansion is about 0, and it will not deform in the high-temperature evaporation process, which is particularly critical in the micron scale evaporation process.

The main raw material suppliers of metal mask industry are also relatively concentrated. The products of Japanese, Korean, European and American manufacturers have excellent performance and are widely used by mainstream manufacturers. For example, the superalloy materials mentioned above are mainly supplied by Hitachi metal. The raw materials of FMM produced by DNP come from the exclusive supply of Hitachi metal.

PPI will affect the effect of FMM, and ultimately affect the resolution of OLED screen. The FMM produced by DNP can not only be the thinnest, but also the PPI can exceed 520, which no other manufacturer can do for the time being. Samsung also has an advantage in the small and medium-sized OLED industry because it provides high-quality FMM for printing in Japan.

Earlier, in order to reduce material costs and improve product quality, Hoya of Japan and lg-it of South Korea have extended to the upstream of the industry, with the production capacity of the whole industry chain of metal mask substrates such as grinding, polishing, chrome plating and gluing. At present, Chinese enterprises are also seeking technological breakthroughs in the field of upstream raw materials.

“Upstream raw materials are controlled by Japanese and Korean enterprises, which is also a pain point restricting the development of China’s metal mask industry. At present, we are cooperating with European related material enterprises to enrich the supply chain. At the same time, in order to break through the bottleneck, we have also introduced the products of domestic raw material enterprises in the experimental line for testing, cooperating with each other to find problems, solve problems, improve products and test again. ” Sui Xin said.

Zhu Haibin believes that due to the complexity of metal mask manufacturing, high investment in production equipment, difficult process and high concentration of upstream material supply, the development of the industry still needs the cooperation of the whole industry chain in the case of increasing demand.

Editor in charge: Tzh

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