Kateeva recently announced a large $88 million Series-E funding round, and the ink-jet equipment maker today announced that Ink-Jet guru Eli Vronsky has been promoted to the company's Chief Product Officer.
During our recent visit to San Francisco, we caught up with Kateeva’s executive team on a break from their presentations on inkjet printing for flexible OLEDs. Chief Product Officer Eli Vronsky gave us an update, as well as an overview of the company’s product strategy.
Q: Kateeva launched its YIELDjet OLED encapsulation system in 2014. We understand that these systems are now used in mass production of flexible OLEDs. Can you update us on these systems? Any customer feedback?
We can’t offer customer specifics, but the overall performance of the tools (and customer feedback) has been excellent. Our customers set a fast timeline for us to bring the YIELDjet FLEX products to market, but we met the challenge with a product that could immediately enter mass production.
In my experience, achieving an outcome like this from Beta tool to mass-production launch in such a short time is a rare thing. It’s a tribute to Kateeva’s superb engineering team for making it happen. And we’re continually improving our mass-production product. In fact, we’ll release a third-generation design this quarter. The innovations will continue as we respond rapidly to customer requests.
For instance, we’re steadily improving overall tool reliability, enhancing our software capability to support printing more complex shapes, and adding technologies that enable deposition of thinner coatings.
Q: Kateeva's YIELDjet systems (for organic material deposition) are used in conjunction with PECVD or ALD for inorganic materials - and both create an efficient TFE. Why isn't it possible to use YIELDjet to deposit all the layers? Is that the most efficient process possible?
Right now the industry-standard approach for TFE is to combine inorganic layers deposited by plasma enhanced chemical vapor deposition (PECVD), and organic layers deposited by inkjet. A key characteristic of the inorganic layer is to have good density. So far, it has not been possible to achieve a high density inorganic layer using solution coating, while also maintaining a sufficiently low process temperature to protect the OLED device from damage. In contrast, PECVD has proven to be an excellent technique for this layer.
On the other hand, the Kateeva YIELDjet™ FLEX has emerged as the best technology for depositing the organic layer, combining low cost of ownership with excellent film quality and yield.
Atomic Layer Deposition (ALD) remains an intriguing candidate for the inorganic layer deposition, potentially enabling the use of thinner inorganic layers for enhanced bendability. However, today we continue to see PECVD dominating the market.
Q: Do you think that the OLED encapsulation problem is "solved"? Or at least it's no longer a major issue like it was a few years ago?
We believe that the Kateeva YIELDjet FLEX product, in combination with PECVD, has fully “solved” the organic layer deposition step with respect to customers’ current demand for curved screens and rollable or foldable screens with a relatively large bend radius. As our customers push to introduce products with an increasingly smaller bend radius, we will introduce technologies to reduce the thickness of the organic layers.
We believe that PECVD and ALD equipment vendors will introduce their own technologies to reduce the thickness of the inorganic layers as well. So far, we do not see any issues with meeting customers’ roadmaps for such “thinner” TFE as well.
Q: There are many competing encapsulation technologies, but the fact that Kateeva managed to enter the mass production phase is a huge win. Do you believe that your technology will also be adopted in other producers when they launch flexible OLEDs?
Yes. We expect the YIELDjet platform to be the industry standard for OLED TFE.
Q: Kateeva recently raised $88 million, and we understand that your OLED deposition systems are getting closer to mass production at customers. How close are we to that goal?
For our TFE products, we are in mass production already, and customer demand is very strong in all regions. For our RGB products, we are making great progress and moving into the phase of executing a number of Beta site installations to demonstrate the performance of our technology.
You can expect to hear more about RGB over the coming year.
Q: One of the problems with soluble OLED materials is the limited lifetime and efficiency compared to evaporable materials. We hear that the performance gap is still considerable. What is your view on that?
The performance of soluble OLED materials is increasing rapidly and is now quite good. We expect to meet TV product requirements within the next year.
Q: In 2015 you signed collaboration agreements with both Sumitomo and Dupont - aiming to help optimize their soluble materials to your system. Any progress on that? What kind of optimization is required?
Our collaborations with Sumitomo and Dupont have been extremely positive. We are thrilled that both companies are driving the fundamental material performance forward, and through our collaborations, we have been able to develop ink formulations and processes that achieve the excellent performance for fully inkjet-printed devices, while also achieving high pixel and display uniformity.
Q: I understand that Kateeva's largest system is Gen-8, but that the company is developing an even larger system. Can you give us any details on that?
As a company, we are 100% focused on helping customers achieve their roadmap goals. Over the last year we have received increasing interest in systems up to G10 in size, so we are currently planning to offer our systems in sizes up to G10.
Q: Current small-sized OLEDs, for smartphones and VR systems require a very high density. Can ink-jet systems compete in this market? Or will evaporation be used in the future for flexible OLEDs too?
Inkjet printing has been established for the organic coating steps of the TFE structure, and we expect it will be used going forward on most OLED products for small, mid, and large-size products, regardless of the pixel resolution.
For the RGB pixel patterning step, fine metal mask (FMM) evaporation is the standard for high resolution displays and we anticipate that this will continue to be the case in the future. In our view, inkjet printing the RGB pixel layers is best suited for mid-size and large-size OLED products with resolutions of 200 ppi or less. Accordingly, we are focusing on introducing our RGB patterning products for the large-size OLED market first.
Thanks Eli! Good luck in your new role at Kateeva!