LG Strives to Switch on OLED Lights Market

OLED Lights Market

According to LG Chem, OLED is the best artificial lighting format in existence today – but before embracing it, the market is going to need a lot of persuasion.

Seoul-based LG Chem, which has been in OLED (Organic Light Emitting Diode) lighting since 2008, and which claims to be the world’s biggest manufacturer of the panels – competitors include Konica Minolta, Osram, Panasonic and Philips – is an enthusiastic preacher of the OLED light gospel.

The company recently hosted Seoul-based reporters on a visit to the brand-new library of Seoul National University – South Korea’s top-drawer college – where some 1,100 OLED (Organic Light Emitting Diode) panels illuminate its main reading room.

They make an impressive sight. Ranked desks feature row upon row double-headed and ultra-slim desk lamps, each of which features sensor-adjustable light strength. This is the largest installation of OLED lights in any building in the world, LG Chem staffers say.

“OLED lighting is a brand-new technology that simply has not existed before,” said Chang-Hoon Jeong, Head of Marketing Team at LG Chem’s OLED Light Division. “We hope that this prestigious library project will fire designers’ imagination and help kick-start the global OLED lighting market.”

Company executives make a convincing case – asserting that OLED lighting meets international regulatory demands for more environmentally friendly and energy-efficient light sources, as well as consumer requirements for more applicable, flexible illuminants.

However, there are hurdles to be leapt before OLED lighting can fulfill its potential.

Firstly, the technology is 10 times the price of competing lighting products. Secondly, company executives complain that tradition-bound consumer lighting manufacturers need significant prodding to shift to new technology. This is why staff at LG Chem, a classic B2B manufacturer may be brushing up on “B2C Marketing 101.”

OLED light panels are related to, but different from, the OLED displays currently used in TVs and smartphones. (Some background on supply chain: LG Chem, the chemical and materials arm of LG Group, supplies some OLED materials to sister company LG Display, which in turn sells displays to global TV and smartphone manufacturers including LG Electronics.)

Viewed through a historical prism, innovations in lighting technology have been surprisingly few and surprisingly recent. Flames – in fire, candle and lantern format – illuminated human life for millennia. Edison’s electric bulb only appeared in the 19th century; fluorescent lighting was a product of the 20th.

The first truly modern lighting was Light-emitting Diode (LED) lights. LED lights emit illumination by transmitting electricity between two semiconductor materials. More energy-efficient than electric bulbs or fluorescent tubes, their flat panels also permit more creative application than their predecessors.

OLED light panels are a different beast again. Unlike LEDs, their materials are fully organic. They are also more energy-efficient, generating less heat than electric, fluorescent or LED lights, meaning they require none of the heat-ameliorating fixtures necessary in LED lights. Each OLED panel offers around 40,000 hours of light – double that of fluorescent tubes, but slightly behind LED lights’ 50,000 hours.

In design terms, OLED panels – unlike LED lights – are flexible and bendable, permitting greater creativity in application. Moreover, OLED light panels are one tenth the thickness of LEDs and one fifth their weight, making them (literally) “light lights.”

OLED is also the closest form of lighting to sunlight, LG Chem claims, but emits zero UV, a form of radiation that causes wrinkles and skin aging, and emits zero glare, a contributing factor to eye strain. Chang said. “OLED is easier on the eyes than any other form of artificial lighting.”

The OLED light panel market is expected to reach only US$82 million in 2015 – but then will climb rapidly to $4.7 billion by 2020, according to UBI Research, a Seoul-based consultancy. Ji Mok-hyun, a technology analyst at Meritz Securities in Seoul, is also bullish. “Right now, the market size is small, but in three-five years, I expect to see the market take off,” said.

However, Ji says for OLED lighting to be feasible, its price point must be depressed. To lower prices significantly LG Chem needs to invest in a brand-new production line, priced at around USD200 million, the analyst said.

But on the question of when they will make such an investment, LG Chem executives remain vague.

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