In a development that could help commercialize new kinds of flat-panel displays, Mitsubishi Corp. of Tokyo has invested $15 million in first-round funding for Vitex Systems Inc. of San Jose, Calif.
Vitex is commercializing transparent, ultrabarrier films for use in next-generation displays for mobile devices such as cellular phones and portable computers. Vitex's waterproof plastic coating, dubbed Barix, is used to encapsulate organic light-emitting diodes.
The combination can replace widely used glass-based liquid-crystal displays. Barix is made of alternating layers of polymer and ceramic thin films deposited on a plastic substrate or an organic LED display.
Vitex intends to use roll-to-roll vacuum processing to deposit the coating directly onto a continuous roll of polyester film or another flexible substrate. Vitex's display product, called Flexible Glass, is thin, light, unbreakable and meets requirements for stringent moisture and oxygen barriers.
A Japanese newspaper reported that the Mitsubishi investment represents a 12.5 percent interest in Vitex. Vitex declined to confirm the report. Nonprofit research laboratory Battelle Memorial Institute of Columbus, Ohio, spun off Vitex in November 1999 and retains a majority of Vitex's shares.
Vitex aims to serve domestic, European and Asian markets. Most OLED display work occurs in Japan.
``This relationship with Mitsubishi will be our window to the Japanese market,'' Michael Sullivan, Vitex president and chief executive officer, said in a news release.
Pilot organic LED production is to begin during the fourth quarter at vacuum roll-coater Techni-Met Inc. in Windsor, Conn., John McMahon, Vitex vice president of sales and marketing, said in a telephone interview. Under a joint development agreement, Vitex purchased equipment that is being installed at the Techni-Met plant.
Interest in flat-panel displays has drawn the attention of DuPont, Eastman Kodak Co., Dow Chemical Co., 3M Co., IBM Corp. and Noveon Inc., formerly a part of Goodrich Corp. McMahon said their interest points to rapid growth for the technology.
``All the [public sales] projections have to be low, or these companies have invested far too much,'' he said, basing his observation on the ``size of the companies active in this marketplace and the facilities I have seen in my travel.''
At the Society for Information Display's exposition in June, DuPont Displays of Research Triangle Park, N.C., showed a flexible organic LED display that was fabricated using Vitex's flexible barrier substrate. DuPont Displays is part of Wilmington, Del.-based DuPont's iTechnologies business unit.
In recent months DuPont Displays invested in a Ritek Corp. unit building a Hsin-chu, Taiwan, plant to make polymer organic LED glass panels. DuPont Displays also set up a joint venture with Three-Five Systems Inc. of Tempe, Ariz., and arranged with Semiconductor Energy Laboratory Co. Ltd. of Atsugi, Japan, for joint organic LED development.
Jointly owned Samsung NEC Mobile Displays is starting organic LED-display production in Pusan, South Korea.
Meanwhile, Eastman Kodak of Rochester, N.Y., Sanyo Electric Co. Ltd. of Tokyo and Ulvac Japan Ltd. of Chigasaki, Japan, are working to build a manufacturing equipment infrastructure for production of the displays.
Also, Chimei Optoelectronics Corp. and IBM's Japan unit have formed a company to make the displays in T'ainan, Taiwan.