Global digital signage solution provider STRATACACHE is constructing the first US-based complete display production facility in Eugene, Oregon. The future MicroLED E4 fab is planned to commence production in 2022, and the fab will be a complete microLED production line, from epiwafer (on 300 mm silicon wafers), through transfer process and to final module assembly.
This project is extremely interesting, and we set out to discuss it with STRATACACHE's founder and CEO, Chris Riegel. At STRATACACHE, Chris leads strategic direction, technology development and engineering operations, and the MicroLED fab project seems to be personally spearheaded by him.
Hello Chris. Can you, first of all, tell us of the current status of the Eugene fab? Have you started retrofitting it for microLED production?
Bringing a Fab back to life (of any size) isn’t a trivial task, but in the past 11 months since we purchased the E4 facility, we have made great strides to bring the Fab back to a fully operational state. Thankfully, the past two owners of the facility were incredible stewards of the building and kept it in amazing shape, so our key tasks are those you would expect with the re-activation of a 1.5 million square foot facility with a Class 1/1000 clean room the size of two football fields.
We understand that STRATACACHE is aiming to produce the displays completely in-house. Will that include epiwafer production, chip processing, backplane production, transfer process and complete module production?
Yes, fully vertically integrated display manufacturing, although there may be some particular product categories that may make sense to bring in specialty items from the outside.
When do you aim to start producing panels in the Eugene Fab?
Q4 2021 Pilot, Q1-Q2 2022 Production.
Traditionally most device makers have opted to buy displays from dedicated display makers. Why do you think it makes sense for STRATACACHE to produce its own displays?
MicroLED platforms are a real game changer for the display industry. For the first time in 3 generations of display technology, products can be built without spending billions on factory infrastructure. On a global basis, this allows companies in many countries, The United States, France, Canada, Germany, India, etc. to build native display industries and not be subject to the Asian display cartel. MicroLED is to display what Fracking is to Big Oil.
Why is it so important to STRATACACHE to produce displays in the USA? Is that just a patriotic decision?
There are lots of great patriotic people around the world who go broke chasing a dream. It’s important to produce displays in the U.S. because so much innovation in both consumer electronics and industrial platforms is restricted by the cartels.
There are thousands of great ideas for new products that A) don’t have the production scale to fit the Asian display production model or B) you would be crazy to hand over your designs to manufacturers who wouldn’t waste a nanosecond in appropriating your IP.
It’s no secret in the industry that the big Asian display players also compete broadly across the consumer electronics sector. What sense does it make for any company to hand a competitor in a country that doesn’t enforce IP protections a roadmap to your innovation and turn your supplier into an instant competitor?
What kind of displays does STRATACACHE plan to produce at the new fab? What kind of sizes, and also are you looking into flexible and transparent MicroLEDs?
I would be violating my own Prime Directive above if I gave away too much information about our plans, but you will certainly see a range of product sizes and inclusion of both flexible and transparent designs. I promise our designs and product ideas are very cool and will make you smile.
There are several microLED architectures in several stages of R&D today: RGB vs blue+QD, Sapphire wafers vs Silicon ones, TFT backplane vs microICs... any thoughts on these different architectures and their applicability for SC's future fab?
Silicon and 300mm are clearly very interesting. For TFT vs. MicroIC, I don’t think it has to be an either-or decision. Both have merits and based on the end device display application, I would envision using each in appropriate product applications.
Are there any challenges during the production process for which you are looking for innovative technology or suppliers? Anything you want to emphasize for your potential microLED equipment suppliers?
It’s no secret that transfer at scale is still a hot topic. I have seen working solutions and some amazing ideas for the near-term future that are very exciting. Evolution of Red LED on Silicon is certainly also very much on our radar. To the broader industry, if you have a superior idea and wish to see it used and commercialized in a greenfield environment, please reach out to us.
Will all of the displays be for STRATACACHE's own use?
No. We have already been approached by several end product companies who are educating themselves on MicroLED display and how it may help them deliver innovative solutions to their products and customers. While we will primarily be building for our own product strategy, we are also building capacity to serve others. Think of a TSMC type model, allowing next generation consumer electronics and specialty display providers to work in a Fabless outsource model based on display ICs.
We understand STRATACACHE is starting to hire employees and managers for the E4 fab. Anything you can disclose at this stage about potential job openings in Eugene?
We seek the best and the brightest, and in return offer an environment free of the bureaucracy that is strangling tech innovation all too often. We call it the island of misfit toys, in reality, it’s an environment designed to enable smart people and great ideas to challenge the status quo.
We also understand that STRATACACHE is thinking about building more display fabs in the US in the future - anything you can share with us regarding these plans?
As we start shipping products from E4, we strongly believe that this idea can be duplicated around the world. Advanced visual display doesn’t have to be dominated by state owned or controlled companies in one part of the world.
Eugene is Wolf 359. The battle is just beginning.
Thank you Chris - I hope things progress as planned with the new fab, we'll be closely watching and hope to break out more details soon!
US-based STRATACACHE is a global leader in digital signage and commercial intelligent digital display and sensor systems. The company provides a full scope of technological solutions under one roof. The company's retail solutions enable the creation of an in-store evolution to truly drive a frictionless store visit. The company's signage solutions target markets such as retail, gaming, quick service restaurants, banking, education and more.