Merck is a global pharmaceutical and chemical company based in Germany. The company designs, develops and manufactures a wide range of specialised materials including high performance light emitting materials for OLEDs. The OLED business belongs to Mercks' Liquid-Crystal (LC) unit.
I managed to conduct an interview with Dr. Udo Heider, the VP of the LC business unit at Merck (it's called the LC/OLED unit) about their OLED program.
Q: Hello Dr. Heider, and thank you for this interview. Can you describe your range of OLED products in more detail? Are you just into OLED materials, or other IPs as well?
First of all Merck's business is materials.
Merck is approaching the OLED market with both a short-term and a long-term perspective.
The current OLED market is centered around small-molecule evaporable materials. Here the electron and hole transport materials are the basis for long lifetime and high-efficiency (product) device performance and Merck considers these materials as the essential building blocks in our development and commercial portfolio. For the emitting layers, Merck has a leading market position in blue singlet materials and a strong focus on the strategic development of the highly efficient emitting materials for the next generation of OLED products.
For the long term, OLED device manufacturers are indicating a strong need for wet-processable, i.e. ink-jet OLED materials. In cooperation with key customers Merck is developing the materials that will give its customers the potential to significantly reduce factory process and equipment costs.
Q: What are the advantages of your OLED materials? Can you give us some technical details? (efficiency, lifetime, etc.)
As indicated in the above question, regarding the commercial materials Merck believes that the OLED market urgently needs lifetime and efficiency to be competitive with incumbent technologies. Commercialized Merck materials fulfill those requirements for lifetime and efficiency needed for device application.
Q: You have just announced that you will buy OLED-T's IP assets... Can you give us more info on this? How will OLED-T's material complement your own portfolio?
OLED-T based its long-term development on the close interaction with OLED customers: It has an interesting IP and material portfolio that perfectly complements Merck's IP and material product range in this field. This deal will enable Merck to broaden its range of products on offer as well as its IP base for ongoing material developments.
Q: OLED-T has developed phosphorescent OLEDs. Some say that Universal Display owns the basic phosphorescent-OLED patents. So if someone wants to use these materials, does he need to license from UDC as well?
Whether the OLED-T phosphorescent patents will yield phosphorescent materials that can be commercialized is currently under investigation at Merck. Therefore the question on IP dependence and/or the need for a license from another company cannot be answered at this point in time.
Q: Can you name some companies that are already using your materials or IPs? Are there any products on the market that have OLEDs that are "Merck Inside"?
Basically all Merck commercial OLED activities are covered by NDAs, therefore it is not possible to disclose details and company names here.
Merck can confirm that it considers having control of marketing and sales of OLED materials as very important to understand the customers and market requirements. These are absolutely essential for us, to have the development focus exactly on those points that will enable the OLED market to grow and prosper in future.
So, Merck is participating actively with its materials in the OLED market but cannot comment further.
Q: We are taking a special interest in OLED for lighting - which you are working on. Any updates in this regard?
Merck also considers the lighting market as an additional feature and benefit that OLEDs bring to the table. Merck is both addressing this market with evaporable small-molecule materials as well as in its strategic soluble-material developments. Here again, Merck is actively involved with materials for this developing market.
Q: Your CEO recently said that "OLEDs will not replace LCDs till 2030". Do you guys still hold this view? If so, why invest in OLED materials now?
Merck is a material supplier: Our focus is on developing materials that have the ability to enable OLEDs to be used in different products. The product-development roadmaps and timelines are in the hands of our customers.
As history shows, it can take a very long time for a new technology to fully replace an incumbent technology, i.e. there is still a market for CRT TVs. On the other hand you can see the first small OLED–TVs like the SONY XEL-1 already on the market.
Q: What do you think are the main challenges still ahead for the OLED industry?
For any new technology to replace an incumbent technology some elementary points have to be addressed.
A new technology has to bring key values to the end customer as well as to the device manufacturer. While the key values for the end customer of OLEDs are sufficiently clear to the broad community, the manufacturing yield and processes will drive the ultimate cost of the OLED product. Merck is addressing these needs from the material perspective.
Q: Where do you see Merck's OLED business five years from now?
The business is growing and most likely will continue to do so. We will be among the top players in OLED materials.
Q: It seems like OLED prototypes were very strong in CES, but no new OLED TVs. I wonder what you guys think of that as well.
A host of very interesting OLED displays for portable media applications were promoted at CES, demonstrating the striking key features of OLEDs. This shows that OLEDs are continuing to find their way into products. To specifically comment on why OLED TVs were not so prominent at the CES would be difficult for Merck to say as we are not a device manufacturer. As you of course know, in order to successfully launch new technology products, timing and investment are the key, but it also necessary that the technology is ready to be supplied in quantities (at a reasonable cost value), with the quality of material, components, process and process technology also playing essential roles. Merck, as a material supplier, sees its role as working in close cooperation with key customers to deliver continuous material improvements that enable our customers to achieve their product roadmap targets.
Dr. Heider - thank you again for this interview. I wish you and Merck OLED unit great success in the coming years...