CDT CEO, Dr David Fyfe
Backgrounder:Cambridge Display Technology (CDT) spun out of the University of Cambridge's fabled physics department, the Cavendish Laboratories, three years after Jeremy Burroughes - now CDT's CTO - discovered that light emitting diodes (LEDs) could be made using conjugated polymers whilst working in Professor Richard Friend's research group.
Possessing a number of major advantages such as being solution processable and therefore applicable to substrates using techniques such as ink jet printing, the new polymer organic light emitting diodes (POLEDs) were hailed as the future of display technology, set to replace liquid crystal displays (LCDs) and cathode ray tubes in many existing applications, as well as opening up exciting possibilities for new product forms such as flexible or even wearable displays.
The commercialisation and development of this world-leading and patented technology continues at CDT's head office on the outskirts of Cambridge and at its state of the art Technology Development Centre a few miles away at Godmanchester. Work is also carried out at CDT's business offices in Asia and the USA. 1) Some 17 years on since discovery, what is the relevancy of P-OLEDs to the modern world and society at large? OLED technology, and polymer OLEDs in particular, continue to offer a truly superior performance over most other forms of display we see around us today. They offer the possibility not only of better performance in expected ways such as higher contrast, brighter colours and so on, but could allow displays to be included in places where the relative bulk of LCD and other technologies preclude them. So we could see displays built into wall panels, into credit cards and a host of other applications.
One of the most important benefits will be lower power consumption for today's host of multi-function portable products. The relative simplicity of OLED technology means that lower cost displays may be possible, further extending the gamut of uses to which displays are put. 2) Where does CDT sit in this future and what are the company's long term aims and strategies? CDT remains the principal developer of P-OLED technology, and works with the major players in the display supply chain to bring the technology to market in the shortest time. Our goal is to see P-OLED technology implemented commercially in as many areas as possible; this includes displays, lighting and potentially several other exciting areas such as printing -think photocopiers here - and even sensors. 3) Has CDT identified any new areas to explore? We are hugely excited by the potential of our Total Matrix Addressing (TMA) technology which I had the pleasure of launching to the OLEDs world in San Diego last month. In a nutshell, this could allow medium sized displays to be produced with the same simple, low cost driver systems which are used in small displays such as cell phones.At present, displays larger than a couple of inches across need more complex and expensive 'active matrix' drivers. This development has important commercial ramifications as well as technical ones, as the simpler 'passive matrix' technology is available to far more companies world wide. 4) CDT floated on NASDAQ slightly below analysts' forecasts and the share price has since fallen, why? With a business like ours, it's very difficult to see how we are doing quarter to quarter. Revenues are inherently 'lumpy' with a licensing model, especially prior to major commercialisation, and investors need to look at the big picture. Our story is also rather more complex than some other tech stocks. I plan to spend a good part of my time in 2007 talking with investor groups, and helping them to see the enormous potential upside of our business.
5) As the LSE grows in popularity, what are the upsides and downsides of a NASDAQ listing? The size of the US investor market offers access to a greater pool of funding than the UK, and NASDAQ status positions us firmly among some of the major tech players. However, I think it's well known that a US listing brings with it a considerable burden of administrative overhead, especially in the implementation of Sarbanes-Oxley compliance, and is less flexible than we would like. 6) There are many competing technologies in the displays arena, how does CDT's offering stand out? Most people are familiar with LCD technology, and along with plasma displays LCD makes up a market of almost $100 billion a year at the panel level. Potentially, much of this market is available to OLED technology. We have seen LCD raise its game considerably over the last five years, but there are some clear advantages of OLEDs which will prove increasingly important as time goes on. The first is cost.
The simple device structure and simpler manufacturing steps mean that OLEDs become more attractive to display makers as margin pressure on them increases in line with falling consumer prices.
At the same time, lower power consumption is an inherent advantage of OLED devices, and this is important in the increasingly sophisticated portable device market, as well as being a topical theme with developed economies looking to reduce the environmental footprint of their key technologies.
7) CDT was established almost 15 years ago. Why has it taken so long to break through commercially? Actually OLED devices first appeared in commercial products about 10 years after discovery of the underlying phenomenon of organic electroluminescence in the labs of Cambridge University. This is a somewhat shorter time than the equivalent periods for LCD or plasma. Part of the problem is that perception has been skewed by over-enthusiastic early hype, and by the high profile of some of the technically more challenging applications such as wafer thin televisions and fully flexible displays. 8) When is the consumer public going to benefit from CDT's technology and be able to see it in their own homes? They already can! Many MP3 players now incorporate CDT technology in the form of monochrome displays. Other early adopting applications are room-to-room AV controllers, medical devices, instrumentation and sports equipment. We believe it will be a couple of years yet before flat panel OLED TVs are in the stores. 9) The company raised £10m at the end of last year for a commercial push in 2006; how has this progressed? The funds raised gave us the headroom to consider important strategic options, and to fund important developments such as TMA I mentioned before. Commercially, our recent news of a major display license sold to Matsushita Corporation- better known here as Panasonic, the global leader in plasma displays - was a high point of 2006. 2006 was also the first full year of operation for our joint venture with Sumitomo Chemical - Sumation- which develops and sells the light emitting materials themselves.
We had record progress in LEP lifetimes - including the most difficult colour blue! - as a result of this sharing of IP and research know-how. 10) Does CDT have any plans for physical expansion in Cambridge or into new overseas territories? We have adequate facilities in Cambridge and Godmanchester for our foreseeable needs, and continue to invest in these centres to push forward materials and process developments, and to support our industry customers. The global display industry has been dominated by Japan, Korea and Taiwan for many years now, and we support those countries through our own offices in Taipei and Tokyo.
However, we have noted with great interest the emergence of a number of other countries including Brazil, Singapore, China and India, all of whom have declared their intention to compete in the global display market. Needless to say we are taking the opportunity to build on our Cambridge roots and to offer support and make sales in these dynamic territories. We have been engaged by the Brazilian Government to conduct a feasibility study for us to assist them in establishing P-OLED manufacturing in Brazil.