Wednesday, June 3, 2015

What a Difference Two Years Can Make

By Geoff Walker

Exactly two years ago, at Display Week 2013, Cima NanoTech (Booth 646) launched its new transparent-conductor technology (branded SANTE), a silver-nanoparticle conductive coating that self-assembles into a random mesh-like network when coated onto a substrate. Cima was awarded the Display Week “Best in Show” award in the Small Exhibit Category that year.

At launch, much of the excitement was about the “self-assembling” nature of Cima’s technology. A video showing how the material transformed from an opaque liquid to a mesh-like metal network in only 30 seconds caught many attendees’ interest. From Cima’s 2013 press materials and my conversations with its people at the time, it was clear that Cima believed that the technology would work well in large-format (>30 inch) touch screens. However, Cima didn’t know in what applications. One press release said, “SANTE is a platform technology with applications that span across multiple markets,” while another said “applications range from Ultrabooks and laptops, to all-in-one monitors, industry [sic] displays, personal information displays, and other screens that are larger than 10 inches.” And the company didn’t have a clear idea of how to establish traction with its technology. At that time, its focus seemed to be on comparing this technology with other transparent conductors such as silver nanowires, copper metal-mesh, and carbon nanotubes.Remember that new transparent conductors were a very hot topic in 2013…

Now, two years later, it’s almost as if Cima is a different company. (I didn’t spend any time with it at Display Week 2014.)  Its booth is dominated by a 55-inch touch table with a p-cap touchscreen (borderless, of course, like all p-cap touchscreens) made by Cima using its own material. Cima’s focus is laser-sharp on its advantages in large-format touch (e.g., low sheet resistivity, which yields faster touch response, no moiré issues, etc.), and the advantages that the large-format touch market offers today (e.g., high margins, no dominant competitor, multiple applications, etc.). 

Cima has established a solid partnership with the largest ODM in the world, with an agreed-upon strategy that addresses both low-mix/high-volume sales through OEMs and high-mix/low-volume sales through systems integrators. Cima is currently leasing an entire factory in Korea that produces touch sensors, and it is actually planning to purchase the factory once the new funding round that it’s currently seeking is completed.

The applications that Cima is pursuing with its ODM have also come into much sharper focus during the last two years. Number one is interactive whiteboards (estimated to be a market of about 800K units/year globally). In China, the whiteboards will be focused on education because the Chinese government is providing heavy subsidies to its school systems. In the US, the whiteboards will be focused on the enterprise market (e.g., for video collaboration) because that’s where the money is. Cima’s number two application target is interactive digital signage, especially in Asia, where digital signage is much more prevalent than in North America. As you might guess, the great majority of the sales that Cima is expecting in the next year will be in Asia.

I find Cima’s transition over the last two years to be quite remarkable. It has transformed from a technology-obsessed company focused on its cool new transparent conductor (which is actually pretty far down the food chain*) to what seems like an emerging touchscreen supplier with a strong business plan that addresses significant applications in one of the most fertile markets in touch (large-format).

* Transparent conductor è Film è Touch sensor è Touch module è Integrated on display è Application

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