BACKGROUND FOR THIS EVALUATION

Prior to departure, three broad objectives were sketched out for this evaluation: novel liquid crystal electro-optic effects, alternate technologies to silicon on dielectric, and materials strengths useful for current LCD technologies. The liquid crystal technology used in TFT LCDs is identical to the one used in niche alphanumeric displays that enabled Sharp to win the calculator war of the early seventies (Kurokawa 1992).

The panel's first area of interest was alternate passive LC display technologies. Passive LCDs are cheaper to manufacture than active LCDs, depending more on liquid crystal expertise (which we knew existed in the FSU), and less on semiconductor manufacturing prowess (about which we had scant prior information).

Examples of such alternate passive LCD technologies are the full- color, video-rate, antiferroelectric displays being developed by Nippon Denso and Showa Shell (Footnote 7) in Japan or the polymer stabilized cholesteric textures (PSCT) at the Liquid Crystal Institute, Kent State University, in the United States (Doane 1991, 1992; ALCOM) and Labor fr Bildschirmtechnik, University of Stuttgart, Germany. And the panel did learn of interesting new results in passive ferroelectric displays at Niopik. (See Niopik site report.)

While the panel members knew from colleagues that there was considerable strength in the FSU in solid-state materials (and indeed saw impressive evidence of this at Zelenograd), the sense was that, rather than developing semiconductor devices, the FSU had concentrated on vacuum tube technology. Based on information available before the panel embarked, this seemed to be largely the case, which leads up to the panel's second general area of interest.

Was it possible that alternate more exotic technologies were in development that held promise for a paradigm shift to replace silicon on dielectric? While silicon is cheap, a relatively large amount of money is required to set up a "fab," that is, a factory to mass produce semiconductor devices, particularly a display fab. Alternate technologies under investigation in Japan are a printing method proposed by E. Kaneko (1992), and the replacement of the silicon on dielectric technology used in TFT LCDs, with polymer transistors on glass that do not need so much expensive equipment to make.

For example, Mitsubishi and Sanyo Electric announced that they had prototyped a TFT using an organic semiconductor film for deposition over a large surface that side-stepped expensive vacuum equipment. The carrier mobility of their organic film was reported to be comparable to amorphous silicon at 0.2 c2/V.s, making it 20 to 200 times faster than conventional polymer transistors (TechSearch International Inc).

Knowing of Russian theoretical contributions to electronic transport mechanisms in polymers, the panel was interested to learn of experimental advances on this subject and the prognosis for technology transfer to mass production. Polymer TFTs (and LEDs) appeared to be a potential break-out direction for emerging FSU display industries. Although members of the team met with some FSU experts in electron transport in polymers, no more was learned than is available in the published literature (Salaneck et al. 1993; Ovchinnikov and Pronin 1991; Frankevich and Lymarev 1992; Inokuchi 1992; Schmiesser and Wolfgang 1993).

When planning for this trip, panelists had not appreciated well enough that because of their formerly heavy military focus, mass production, technology transfer, and even financial statements are as yet relatively novel concepts in FSU countries. In hindsight, panel members did not appreciate well enough that they were dealing now with three different countries with different histories, different strengths, and different ambitions. Indeed, even technology transfer can assume a different meaning, or no meaning at all, when there is nothing to which the technology can be transferred in one's own country.

It has been estimated that 35-50% of the cost of manufacturing current LCDs is in materials such as display drivers, transparent substrates (glass, quartz, and polymer), transparent conductors (indium tin oxide or ITO), color filters, polarizers, backlights, and liquid crystals. Of these, the most expensive are display drivers, color filters, and backlight. Thus, the panel's third objective was to learn if FSU strengths in materials could be applied to reducing these costs. It was in this last general area of traditional LCD processing that the panel gleaned information on R&D aspects, while issues concerning technology transfer to mass production were again not discussed.

To evaluate FSU liquid crystal flat panel display technology in a world context, this report uses the outline developed by Doane for the JTEC evaluation (Tannas and Glenn 1992). This JTEC panel was well-supported by information advanced for its technology evaluation of flat panel displays in Japan. In contrast, for its maiden voyage to evaluate the flat panel display technology in the FSU, the panel is largely indebted for input to academic colleagues in the United States (particularly at Bell Labs), in Europe, and in the FSU (Footnote 8).

Even during difficult times, it is important to recognize that an avenue of communication the United States has always shared with the world (Japan and Russia in particular, two countries that have risen from the ashes of World War II in apparently completely different economic directions) is a lively curiosity about fundamental aspects of natural phenomena, the source of all new technologies. Results from basic research belong to everyone. What is done with these results, that is, the technologies that emerge, depends on the socioeconomic structures that they serve. Since World War II, in Japan, this structure has been nearly exclusively the industrial sector of the world market, while in the FSU, it has been nearly exclusively the military and commodities sectors.

In view of the sparseness of information available to the panel prior to the visits, and the fact that these visits took place during a time of dramatic transition in the FSU, this evaluation is a preliminary sketch of flat panel display technologies during extremely difficult and confusing times, and is not its final portrait. Similar to the situation in the United States, the future of all technologies, including display technologies, and the advantages they offer to their people, are tied to the commitment of all the FSU countries to building a global economy.


Published: December 1994; WTEC Hyper-Librarian