After Decade of Development, Cymer Moves Into OLED Display Manufacturing

When San Diego-based Cymer (NASDAQ: CYMI) announced its first-quarter financial results last month, the company noted almost parenthetically that it’s just beginning to roll out technology to manufacture OLED display screens.

In the 24 years since it was founded, Cymer’s business has been focused almost entirely on making advanced lasers that serve as the light sources in the photolithography process used in semiconductor manufacturing. The ability of Intel, AMD, and other semiconductor makers to produce chips with smaller and smaller microcircuit designs is due in part to Cymer’s ability to make lasers that produce light at ever-tighter wavelengths. The company now has about 3,300 lasers operating in semiconductor plants around the world; its most advanced lasers, which cost about $1.7 million apiece, are sold to ASML, Canon, and Nikon for integration into scanners—the big machines used to put microcircuits on silicon wafers.

Cymer logoCymer’s success in keeping pace with chipmakers has given the company a commanding global market share, and Cymer spokesman Blake Miller says Japan’s Gigaphoton is its only remaining competitor. As a semiconductor tool supplier, however, Cymer has faced an extraordinarily volatile market. In the winter of 2008-09, for example, Cymer laid off at least a third of its worldwide workforce as the recession deepened. Cymer has long needed another business to dampen the vicious swings of its core semiconductor business.

So it was noteworthy, to say the least, when Cymer said its TCZ display division has installed its first system for making ultrathin OLED displays at the facilities of an unnamed customer in South Korea. While the first system undergoes integration and testing, Cymer says it plans to deliver its second OLED manufacturing system to another unnamed customer in China by the end of October.

OLED technology itself has been 20 years in the making, according to David Knowles, a 12-year Cymer veteran who now heads the company’s TCZ division.

Knowles says one of the key innovations underlying TCZ’s OLED technology is a process that creates a uniform grid of transistors on the semiconducting material that forms a … Next Page »

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Bruce V. Bigelow was the editor of Xconomy San Diego from 2008 to 2018. Read more about his life and work here. Follow @bvbigelow

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