Chapter 1

OVERVIEW

J. William Doane

INTRODUCTION

Flat-panel displays are currently regarded as a critical technology in the United States. The technology can affect the cost of portable computers; as a result, computer manufacturers recognize a need to control the manufacturing of flat-panel displays. The Optoelectronic Industrial Development Association estimates it to be a $20 billion industry, expected to exceed $35 billion in the year 2000. As flat-panel display technologies develop, so do new products that use them, such as the display on two-way pagers and the viewer that is an electronic book or electronic newspaper. Companies have found uses for flat-panel displays on aircraft, telephones, and in many other applications. The workhorse of the industry has been the cathode ray tube, sales of which are also on the increase, although other display technologies continue to develop and establish new markets. In the 1980s nearly all U.S. companies dropped their display programs. Today many of these same companies are reconsidering their decisions. Japan currently holds more than 90% of the world market; its principal products are the active matrix liquid crystal display and the supertwisted nematic (STN) display. These displays are applicable primarily to portable devices because of their low power requirements. (Appendix F, prepared by Dr. Patricia Cladis, gives a more detailed analysis of today's market.)

To compete with Japan and the Far East in the flat-panel display business, it is important that the United States, Europe, and other parts of the world (such as the former Soviet Union (FSU) countries) take advantage of their strong positions in display material development and device research programs. While the western world lags in manufacturing, it continues to be far ahead in research and development. For example, Russia and Ukraine produced early pioneers in liquid crystal research such as Landau and Freedericksz, who delineated the fundamental concepts behind the materials important in flat-panel display technology. Scientists of the FSU are world class. They initiated space exploration, various undersea technologies, nuclear power, and many other technologies. The World Technology Evaluation Center (WTEC) therefore has undertaken a detailed study of some of the FSU countries to see what technology exists in the area of flat- panel displays. Information on this technology was withheld from the West until the disintegration of the Soviet Union. Entire military cities were kept secret during the Cold War. The state of display technology in FSU countries was not common knowledge; however, some individuals who toured the Soviet Union were able to learn about some of these technologies. These early probes showed WTEC where the most exciting developments might be found.

Under the auspices of the WTEC program, a team of eleven scientists was selected for their strong backgrounds in various aspects of displays and business, including one scientist with an extensive understanding of business in FSU countries. Most of the team's information was derived from visits to thirty-six different sites in Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine. A list of these sites is given in Table 1.1. A list of the team members along with the sites they visited is given in Table 1.2. In addition to panel members, the travelling team consisted of Michael DeHaemer of WTEC, Oleg Lavrentovich of Kent State University, Robert Rice of McDonnell Douglas, and David Slobodin and Dick Urban of ARPA.

Table 1.1
Sites Visited

Table 1.2
Regions Visited/Team Assignments

Mission/Objectives

The mission of the panel was to report on the state of flat-panel display technology in Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine. One objective was to learn the technical status of the flat-panel display industry in the former Soviet Union. Based on their knowledge of FSU technological developments, the panelists expected to find some innovative approaches to flat-panel displays. However, it was not clear how far along FSU countries were with these technologies and what their intentions were regarding further development. The panelists had many surprises, including the manufacture of some STN displays that they had not known existed.

A second objective was to seek innovative technologies and approaches to flat-panel displays. These countries are noted for their clever approaches to technologies. Their isolation during the Cold War caused them to pursue directions that were not pursued in the West, as shown in the report.

A third objective was to explore business opportunities and understand the relationships between private industries, universities, and government institutes, all unknown quantities. Team member Dr. Marko Slusarczuk has extensive experience in this climate, in particular in the area of business issues. The panel's interests were to learn how private industries were managed, how they secured their investments, and what their intentions were. Before traveling to the FSU, WTEC panelists were well aware that many scientists from universities were immigrating to the West. The panel hoped to obtain an estimate of the number of immigrating students and the situation of the flat-panel display industry -- that is, who remained there, and whether remaining scientists were active in further research and development. Another unknown was the structure of the institutes: how the institutes work, how they work with industry, and how they work with universities. The team was also aware that there are many young entrepreneurs in FSU countries. The team wanted information on what entrepreneurial or start-up activities were occurring in the flat-panel displays area, and whether these entrepreneurs could pursue opportunities with western countries seeking partnerships and investments.

A fourth objective was to characterize the flat-panel display infrastructure. The initial questions were to find out if an infrastructure existed, and where the liquid crystal flat-panel display manufacturers obtained their materials, drive circuits, glass for substrates, phosphors for emissive displays, and so forth. In general, were all the businesses in place to manufacture flat-panel displays? If not, what businesses were missing? Were there any opportunities for U.S. manufacturers?

The panel obtained answers to most of these questions, but based only on visits to thirty-six different companies, institutes, and universities over a five-day period. The panel missed a few critical institutions, for example, a phosphor producer, and those that were in areas not easily accessible. The panel was restricted to visiting only major cities, although a team did get to Saratov, which turned out to be a valuable site. A problem with traveling in the FSU was the gasoline shortage. Plane travel in and out of some smaller cities could not be guaranteed; therefore, panelists used only trains to travel between cities, and traveled mostly on overnight coaches to save time.

Distinguished Visitors from the FSU to the United States

Before traveling to the FSU, the panelists agreed to identify six or seven key people in flat-panel display technology in the FSU and invite them to the United States for a workshop to be held in Washington, DC on February 3, 1994. The individuals selected during the visit are listed in Table 1.3. After the workshop, WTEC gave them the opportunity to travel to various places in the United States to seek out companies or universities that might be interested in participating in joint research or manufacturing efforts. Normally, a team of two people visited each site. Each team was given an opportunity to identify a key person to visit the United States. Immediately upon returning to the United States, the teams selected seven visitors. An effort was made to distribute these among the three countries visited: Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine.

Table 1.3
Distinguished Visitors from the FSU to the United States

Some Constraints/Realities

There were many limitations to the visit. First, the visit occurred during a time of political uncertainty in the former Soviet Union countries, shortly after Prime Minister Yeltsin's dissolution of the Russian Parliament. In fact, a travel restriction in Russia was lifted only a few days before the WTEC committee's visit. The political uncertainty had an impact on the visit in a number of ways. Officials of several companies were apprehensive about having such a team visit them since they did not know what political effect the contact would have. During the WTEC visits, many hosts were very careful about what they said to panelists. Because of the shelling of the White House in Moscow and the media coverage it attracted, even members of the team were apprehensive about traveling to Russia. Probably the most significant limitation was that the visits were all very short, often lasting not more than two hours. In nearly all cases this was insufficient time to have an in-depth discussion or to observe their facilities. The meetings, therefore, had to be run efficiently.

For the most part, the discussions were led by a host; often several key players in the program presented prepared statements about their work. Because of the distances, more time was spent traveling between sites than actually visiting them. Even in the Moscow region, most of the sites were around the perimeter of the city. Traveling by car from the center of Moscow to these outlying areas could take several hours, and an early snow was not helpful. Because of the short visit time, there was a tradeoff between laboratory tours and discussion. Sometimes the hosts opted for lab tours instead of discussion, often the preferred choice because one could see firsthand what the facilities were and what types of research the scientists and engineers were conducting. In cases where there were discussions but no tours, it was difficult to know to what extent the scientists had the technologies that they were discussing. For example, many companies claimed that they had active matrix liquid crystal display technologies, but in only two sites, namely, Platan in Moscow and Minsk in Belarus, did the team see working active matrix displays. Furthermore, when there were discussions, time did not permit going into much depth.

Another drawback was the language barrier. Occasionally the translators were excellent and discussion went smoothly and efficiently. There were times, however, when discussion would center on one point as team members tried to understand exactly what was being said. An interpreter without a strong background in science could make the discussion confusing. Nevertheless, the team learned a great deal about display technology in the FSU. The WTEC panel believes that this is the first detailed report on flat-panel display technology in FSU countries. Representatives from each site had the opportunity to comment on the site visit report before publication. Having the distinguished visitors present during the workshop helped with the accuracy and completeness of the report.


Published: December 1994; WTEC Hyper-Librarian