Motorola Poised for Nano-Blockbuster, CNT Display Project Offers “Lab-to-Marketplace” Lessons
Motorola engineers estimate there would be around 5 Billion CNTs emitting in a 40" display. Your TV will never be the same.
Some Motorola studies suggest that their CNT-based displays, dubbed Nano Emissive Displays (NED), could cut OEM costs by more than half (to as little as $400) for a 40-inch screen, improve brightness, cut energy consumption, and even dramatically extend the life of large flat panel displays to up to 30,000 hours, where plasma starts to see “burn in” aging effects at only 2,000 hours.
But these eye-turning stats didn’t just come pop into scientists’ equations from the start.
When Nano World News went behind-the-scenes with Motorola NED engineers and product execs, we found Motorola was inventing something more than just a new CNT application. They were devising a multi-disciplined “lab-to-marketplace” strategy that blends R&D with real-world business thinking. The result is that NED is on the brink of mega-success, using an approach that holds valuable lessons for nano professionals anxious to commercialize.
Inside Motorola’s Nano “Big Mo”
Moving From Cool Tech to Hot Product
Motorola Lab’s is the best evidence that a great way to move nano research from “cool technology” to “hot product” is to pay attention to the business outside the lab. “Having a good story isn’t good enough, or even a complete demo isn’t good enough,” Motorola’s Dr. Jim Jaskie, Chief Scientist for Motorola Labs’ embedded systems and physical sciences group told NWN. “You have to have the complete path.”
Just how complete? Dawn McCraw is Motorola Labs’ Director of Strategy, Business Development and Marketing. McCraw is one of the people responsible for moving Motorola’s CNT technologies out to commercial OEM display partners, and she describes the process this way: “Even for early stage technologies, potential licensees want to see the core technology demonstrated in the relevant application.”
For Motorola, following the “complete path….to a relevant application” meant a lot of legwork, most of it back-and-forth between Motorola Labs and experts outside.
Motorola’s NED team takes us through their Top 5 steps on the path to nano-productization:
(1) Research the market for where their CNTs could be used — “We knew we had strong CNT technologies, but our task was to find the right niches for us,” McCraw said. She said before the company poured a lot into nano R&D, they had to make sure the end point was worth getting to (or even possible to reach).
That meant lots of research. Motorola execs interviewed technology and subject matter experts inside and outside the company to determine the merit of their overall project assumptions; took steps to fully understand competitive technologies (from a business and technological perspective); assessed Motorola Lab’s current patents and know-how, and conduced a full IP inventory search for other in-house (and/or partnership) technologies they could use.
(2) Demonstrate the feasibility of a CNT-based product to OEM target customers — Because most of Motorola’s target OEM partners already had big display investments and existing products, Motorola had to go the extra mile in showing off their CNT technology. “Demonstrating to OEMs the components for an NED display (such as CNT growth, electronics, spacers, etc.) was not enough. We needed to connect all the dots for them into a full working display demo,” McCraw told NWN. “Even after the demo, the lights didn’t always go on for OEMs. We really had to show them how we did the prototyping, and how we expected the NED displays to be manufactured, so they could understand whether it would make business sense for them to get involved,” McCraw added.
This step included determining how to design and fabricate NED technologies that would hit the OEM-required price point, and also required Motorola to perform third-party technology valuation and cost modeling. “We did not plan to manufacture NED on our own, and were looking for OEM customers who would partner with us,” McCraw said. “But even so, we had to deliver prospects verification that our manufacturing models would be real.”
(3) Engineering CNT-based technologies that provide a significant improvement (quality, cost, life of product) over currently available technologies — “What we found was that most companies using CNTs for display are doing CNT in paste, which can present some real issues with being able to directly control the quality of the display,” Jaskie said.
So, Motorola undertook looking at growing CNTs directly on glass. “This approach turned out to be our third generation approach. We now have the ability to put CNTs right where we want them on the display and at lower temperatures, which gives us a clean, orderly and very high-quality display at lower cost and with lower energy consumption,” Jaskie added. “We’re really quite happy where we are now.” On average, Motorola engineers estimate there would be around 5 Billion CNTs emitting in a 40" display. The engineers can make a pretty accurate estimate because CNTs are assembled onto pads, with each sub-pixel requiring 209 pads.
(4) Tap into the cost/delivery requirements of potential customers/OEMs — “Thanks to all the R&D on customer requirements, we focused on bringing NED to manufacturing. We are now conservatively estimating a starting manufactured cost of less than $400 per 40-inch display, including electronics, and we think a 50- or 60-inch would only be about twice that cost,” Jaskie said.
This happy result arose from Motorola’s work towards “defining a strategy to commercialize the nano technology,” McCraw said. This included conducting a full life-cycle analysis of costs/risks for moving technology from lab to full-scale manufacture, she said. “Nano[technology] firms may not think they can afford the time or money to do this, but believe me, our experience is that OEM customers will not move forward without complete prototyping and manufacturability demonstrated to a large degree. They’re not interested in science experiments,” she added.
(5) Define and demo manufacturing approaches that would meet customer cost/volume requirements on schedule — It turns out that some important non-nano technologies from Motorola semiconductor were of great value for this. “With a large display, like an HDTV, the pixel is 0.75 of a millimeter on a side,” Jaskie said.
“With the help of Motorola semiconductor engineers, we were able to design a fabrication technique at the 5 micron scale, so it gives us comparative easy lithography, and the dialectrics can be printed at that scale. So, all together, industrially speaking, this is not terribly difficult. Basically, all the fabrication equipment and processes already exist to produce NED displays commercially, which was part of our criteria.”
Motorola Labs has taken this 5-step path to the brink of success. In as little as 6 months, Motorola hopes to be able to announce some OEM/partnership deals with Asian display-makers. The result: Consumers could be buying nano-driven TVs at lower-cost and higher quality than today’s by 2007 or early 2008, McCraw told NWN.
This multi-disciplined perspective underpins Motorola Labs’ entire nano R&D/investment portfolio. “One of the things that’s very important, as we’re an industrial company, is that anything we discover in nanotechnology has to go to manufacturing. Universities, national labs and even start-ups may have a luxury of working Blue Sky, and looking for new nano[technologies] without knowing whether they can be mass produced efficiently,” Jaskie said. “We try to get as close to the Blue Sky, while still keeping our feet on the ground.”
To learn more about Motorola’s latest nano research projects, plan to attend The Nano Science and Technology Institute’s Nano Impact Summit, October 19th in Washington, D.C. At the 1-day event, Motorola’s Dr. Kenneth Dean will discuss a range of Motorola’s current nano-research and production projects, including the use of CNTs for the next generation of displays. To register for the Summit and for more information go to http://www.nsti.org/NanoImpact2005/.