Industry analysts often announce the publication of their market research into growth technology sectors. But unfortunately, these analysts usually expect to be paid a hefty fee to read their reports.
So I was happy to see that Rubicon, a manufacturer and provider of commercial sapphire, from boules (shown at right) to polished wafers, was making available for free a white paper by IMS Research on its predictions for the role of sapphire in the LED market as well as predictions for several different end markets for LEDs themselves. You can read the 12-page report by analyst Jamie Foxx here.
The report attempts to predict the demand for sapphire based on the end market demands for LEDs. While there’s a fairly limited audience for predictions about the demand for sapphire substrates, there’s a large potential market for LED lighting that many companies are presently eyeing, making this report’s perspective an interesting data point.
The report defines the total market for LEDs as comprising backlighting for consumer electronics (including TVs, cellphones, tablets, and laptops), general lighting, signage, and automotive. Some of the observations:
–From 2014, the LED backlighting market will be either saturated or decline. However, the general lighting portion of the market will grow – not surprising as current penetration rates for LED lighting, including residiential, industrial, and outdoor lighting are still in the single digit range.
–There are emerging markets for sapphire wafers, including silicon-on-sapphire RF ICs, lenses, sensors, and power devices. At present, these markets are tiny compared to the LED market, but it’s possible that emerging markets will grow at a higher growth rate than the existing LED market.
And, perhaps the most important point is a summary of alternative substrates to sapphire: “LED manufacturers have been on the lookout for alternatives to sapphire as a substrate. GaN and ZnO can be used as substrates, but the costs are high. Silicon is still in the developmental stage as there are issues with LED die quality and thermal expansion coefficients that require the additional cost and complexity of a buffer layer. There are no other likely alternate candidate materials. It is expected that either sapphire will continue to dominate in the future, silicon will take over, or there will be a mixture. Many people view the mid‐ to long‐term prospects for silicon as an LED substrate as good.
“By 2013 it is expected that Bridgelux will be in mass production on silicon with Toshiba as a partner. Most other top manufacturers also have ongoing developmental efforts or research and development. By 2015 silicon may have a notable share of the market for the first time; it is thought that 6‐inch or 8‐inch could be where the battle between silicon and sapphire is most likely.”
Since the report is focused on sapphire and sponsored by a sapphire supplier, it’s not too surprising that it mentions silicon carbide substrates, used by major player Cree, only in passing, and mentions industry newcomer Soraa, which uses proprietary GaN technology, not at all. Still it’s an interesting peek into LED industry predictors and well worth a read.