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May - 2012 - issue > CEO Spotlight

Bursting LED Market further drive

Raja Parvez
CEO-Rubicon Technology
Thursday, May 3, 2012
Raja Parvez
In the LED market, the transition to large-diameter sapphire substrates has begun. In 2011, only about five percent of all sapphire used by LED chip manufacturers was of six-inch diameter, with the standard being two through four-inch wafers. By 2020, we think perhaps 90 percent of LEDs will be produced on wafers of six and eight-inch diameter. The advantages of large-diameter sapphire in this market are well-known – manufacturers achieve greater throughput, more useable surface area, and increased operational efficiencies by using fewer wafers. The production of large-diameter sapphire will need to grow exponentially over the next few years to meet the demand.

The anticipated widespread adoption of LEDs in general lighting and increasing use of LEDs in backlighting for mobile devices, televisions, displays will further drive the move toward large-diameter sapphire substrates, causing this segment to grow faster than the overall sapphire market. In the general lighting space, many countries are adopting laws that either phase out incandescent lighting or directly subsidize solid-state lighting to drive energy savings. Today, commercial and public lighting constitute the majority of the general lighting market, and the exceptionally long life of LED lamps and the resulting savings in maintenance costs make for a compelling value proposition.

As the LED supply chain realizes further cost reductions and manufacturing efficiencies, the value proposition for LED lighting will grow more enticing in these as well as future applications. So the market will require steady, reliable, high quality supplies of large-diameter sapphire wafers to meet demand.

There is a lengthy learning curve involved in manufacturing sapphire. Several competing technologies exist for crystal growth, but most of them involve significant challenges in achieving large sapphire crystals and large-diameter wafers. There is no off-the-shelf solution that will enable a start-up to achieve the required purity, quality, scale and reliability. It takes immense effort to establish the proprietary custom process, equipment, and metrology platforms to meet the high standards of LED chip manufacturers. In addition, this still-young market is characterized by price volatility, and some start-up operations who were attracted to the sapphire market when prices were higher have abandoned their plans when prices moderated. Fortunately, Rubicon is in a strong position, having a high degree of vertical integration and an advantageous cost position, together with more experience in large-diameter sapphire than any other company in the world.

Illinois based Rubicon Technology is an advanced electronic materials provider that develops and manufactures high quality monocrystalline sapphire products in large volume. The products enable multiple, high growth end markets including light-emitting diodes (LEDs), radio frequency integrated circuits (RFICs), and blue laser diodes.
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