AUO has taken a major stake in the electronic paper display market by becoming a major shareholder (over 30%) in SiPix Imaging. Taiwan’s largest manufacturer of thin film transistor liquid display panels, AUO Optronics Corporation (AUO) also ranks in the top three TFT-LCD manufacturers in the world. The company was formed in September 2001 by the merger of Acer Display Technology, Inc. (the former of AUO, established in 1996) and Unipac Optoelectronics Corporation. When merging with Quanta Display Inc. in 2006, it increased its size to account for 20% of the world’s large-sized TFT-LCD market.
Early this year, Two AUO subsidiaries Konly Venture and Ronly Venture invested US $30 million to acquire a total of 60 million, or 31.58%, of SiPix’s shares. Other investors in SiPix include Goldman Sachs, ING Baring, Worldview, BASF, Foxcom, Toppan Forms, PTI Ventures, CMC, New Margins Ventures and Yasuda Ventures.
SiPix Imaging, founded in 1999 in Fremont, California has its roll-to-roll production facility in Chung-Li, Taiwan. SiPix has developed an electrophoretic technology, which uses a Microcup® format, a microscale container holding dielectric fluid and white particles, which move when electrically charged.
The contents of the microcup are hermitically sealed to protect them from the environment and the microcup structure is said to enable the thinnest and most flexible electrophoretic display. Because each microcup is individually sealed, the EPD film can be cut to any shape and size.
Although the electrophoretic technology is fundamentally the same, E Ink uses a double particle in a clear fluid, while SiPix uses a single white particle in a dye. While the double particles enable faster switching speeds, SiPix claims its system is more robust. Depending on the application, it uses a honeycomb or waffle like structure, which is filled with dyes and particles. It is a simple system, and according to the company, the structure eliminates issues with particles colliding. In addition, since the microcups can be filled with different color dyes, it is possible to make a full-color system without external filters.
AUO and SiPix declined to comment on possible reshuffle of the e-paper specialist’s management as a result of the investment. However, SiPix founder and Chairman CS Ho is expected to retire and industry sources indicate that AUO plans to appoint CT Liu, its senior VP and general manager of consumer product display business group to take his place, with Ho’s son as CEO. In mid-2008, AUO started to deploy its resources to develop electrophoretic displays (EPDs). This investment in SiPix will enable it to ensure its supply of EPD materials. If progress is made as planned in AUO’s development roadmap, the company expects to start EPD mass production this year and introduce flexible e-paper with a plastic substrate by 2010.
It is an interesting development because it demonstrates increased awareness of the potential of e-paper in the market. According to research firm iSuppli, global shipments of e-paper displays are expected to reach 3.6 million units this year and rise to 18.3 million units in 2012. Revenues for global e-paper displays are forecast to reach US$291.2 million by 2012, rising at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 143% from US$3.5 million in 2007.
On the technology front, SiPix seems to have carved a successful niche in the electronic paper display market, but E Ink has somewhat stolen its thunder in the electrophoretic display space. In the past, SiPix has been reluctant to discuss particulars about its financing and that may well be the cause for place as an “also ran.” With the influx of monies and support from a major TFT-LCD manufacturer as AUO, that may very well change. Is this a trend where the backplane manufacturers will be driving the market rather than the technology developers?
auo, microcup, sipix