Korea-based Sunic manufactures systems for OLED display production and supply for both pilot and mass production lines. According to ET News, Apple has purchased chemical vapor deposition (CVD) machines from the company to reduce its reliance on Chinese suppliers as it ramps up its R&D into OLED panel and related technology.
CVD is a technique for the fabrication and synthesis of thin films of polymeric materials, which have a broad range of application, including the production of OLED panel coatings with barrier properties.
Japanese Canon Tokki is currently the primary supplier of CVD machines and is said to ship the bulk of its output to Samsung, the biggest producer of OLED panels, but Apple's acquisition of the machines from Sunic could undermine Canon Tokki's dominant position in the CVD market going forward.
Samsung has bought five sets of OLED manufacturing equipment from Canon Tokki so far in 2017 and has signed contracts to buy five out of 10 such machines to be rolled out by the Japan-based machinery company in 2018, said the Commercial Times.Samsung's own CVD purchases likely feed into its plan to construct the world's biggest OLED display manufacturing plant, which could begin mass production in 2019.
Apple has reportedly signed a two-year contract with the Korean company for the supply of up to 92 million curved OLED panels, at least some of which are expected to be used in this year's redesigned iPhone, variously referred to in the media as "iPhone 8", "iPhone Pro", and "iPhone X".
Apple is thought to be offering the OLED iPhone as a premium option alongside typical upgraded "S" cycle iPhone 7 handsets that will retain LCD displays. Rumors suggest that all iPhones in Apple's line-up could come with OLED displays by 2019.
Today's report suggests Apple is accelerating its research into bespoke OLED technology with the aim of eventually reducing its heavy reliance on Samsung in years to come, although whether it would actually manufacture its own OLED panels is unclear. LG has also reportedly purchased two CVD machines from Canon Tokki and has begun shipping OLED panels to Xiaomi and Google, and although LG's panels have not yet been validated by Apple, the two companies are said to be negotiating an OLED supply deal in time for 2019.