Mon, Jul 23, 2007 - Page 12 News List

Apple's use of LED lights boosts sector

PRODUCTION INCREASED Environmental and power efficiency concerns are driving the demand for LEDs, which use less mercury, in TVs and monitor screens

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Visitors walk by a display of LED street lights at an exposition in Taipei on June 18.

PHOTO: WANG PEI-HUA, TAIPEI TIMES

Wellypower Optronics Corp (威力盟), the nation's largest maker of lamps that light up computer monitors and TV screens, will raise capacity of light-emitting diodes (LEDs) as demand increases for the devices that use less power.

The company will boost production capacity to as much as 12 million LEDs per month from 2 million currently, Tony Chang (張孜多), vice president of Wellypower, said on Friday.

The Hsinchu-based company last month raised its forecast for investment in LED production by 67 percent to NT$200 million (US$6 million) because of client requests for the diodes, he said.

The company will increase its capacity to produce LEDs 12-fold to 12 million pieces per month this year, he said.

Apple Inc last month introduced its first notebook using LEDs, and said the diodes will be used in new products because they contain less mercury and use less power. Wellypower, which makes fluorescent tubes that illuminate screens, will phase out production of smaller tubes within two years, Chang said.

"It's a long-term issue and now is the best time to enter the LED business," Chang said. "Customers are asking for more LEDs, so we are cutting back tubes for smaller displays."

LEDs are semiconductors that emit light whose color varies according to the component chemicals. Current backlights, which sit behind a liquid-crystal display, use fluorescent tubes, which burn more power and provide less color spectrum.

Shipments of LEDs used as backlights in screens larger than 10 inches will almost triple next year, compared with 12.8 percent growth for fluorescent tubes, according Austin, Texas-based Display Search.

Wellypower's sales of LEDs, which are used in 95 percent of mobile phones and increasingly in laptops, will more than double next year, Chang said, without giving details.

LEDs will account for between 5 percent and 10 percent of sales this year, rising to as much as 20 percent next year, he said.

The company's first-quarter net income fell 49 percent to NT$147.6 million amid a slowdown in the flat-panel industry and falling prices of fluorescent tubes. Sales gained 22 percent to NT$1.3 billion.

LEDs started as the little red indicators on clock radios and are backlights in most cellphones. Now the LEDs are helping Apple and Sony Corp slim down computers and televisions and cut power usage.

Apple's MacBooks, released last month, are the first of the company's laptops to use LEDs, part of a goal to eliminate mercury from Apple products and become more power-efficient.

Sony released a TV with an LED backlight in 2005, while Sharp Corp and Fujitsu Ltd also make notebooks that use LEDs.

The Ministry of Economic Affairs said in April it would spend NT$2.1 billion to replace all of the country's traffic lights, which use traditional bulbs, with LEDs within three years, and will also convert 1.35 million street lamps.

"Apple is the trendsetter; now that they're using LEDs everyone else will follow," said Jordan Chen, who holds shares of Everlight Electronics Co (億光電子), Epistar Corp (晶元光電) and Opto Tech Corp (華凌光電) among the US$200 million he manages as chief investment officer at Invesco Taiwan Ltd (景順投信).

"LED stocks are benefiting from power efficiency and environment protection, and the trend will continue," Chen said.

While more power efficient, LEDs are as much as 50 percent more expensive than fluorescent lights, limiting them at present to high-end notebooks where price is less of an issue, Chang said.

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