By Chris Chinnock
FREMONT, Calif. - ImageQuest Technologies, one of the few North American manufacturers of liquid crystal display (LCD) panels, has shut down operations after struggling for some time to produce displays to meet the requirements for avionics and military applications. Company representatives were unavailable for comment.
With the demise of ImageQuest, only dpiX in Palo Alto, Calif., Litton Systems Canada in Entobicoke, Ontario, and Optical Imaging Systems (OIS) of Northville, Mich., are left as primary North American manufacturers of the active matrix LCD (AMLCD) "glass" that military display integrators demand.
"Some may view this development as reinforcement that North American LCD manufacturers can`t compete or that this is a shrinking market," says Chuck Wilson, executive vice president at OIS. "We disagree. Our manufacturing process works and we are seeing strong demand for our products."
ImageQuest, founded in 1992 as a joint venture between Hyundai Electronics America and a group of U.S.-based LCD developers, specialized in AMLCD processes suitable for rugged military and commercial applications.
Hyundai leaders are reported to have spent perhaps $30 million to $40 million to establish a pilot production line and develop the LCD manufacturing processes. But ImageQuest designers were never able to produce displays that met customer requirements, so Hyundai officials finally pulled the plug. Rumors had surfaced in recent weeks that a new buyer would continue operations, but that prospect has apparently faded.
Achieving the combination of wide viewing angles, high brightness, and rugged design was a primary focus at ImageQuest, but most traditional Japanese and Korean manufacturers now offer LCD panels sufficient for military and avionics applications. Many program managers are now accepting a modified-off-the-shelf approach to display development that allows the use of off-shore glass.
Engineers at Grunder & Associates in Lenexa, Kan., were among the display integrators who were disappointed in ImageQuest. They needed VGA-resolution displays on three Navy programs, yet "ImageQuest was over a year late in delivering displays that met specifications, and even the delivered displays had such reliability problems that it was upsetting our customers," claims Nick Nichols, vice president of marketing at Grunder & Associates.
To get back on track, Grunder & Associates engineers decided to use off-shore glass and ruggedize it to met the environmental requirements for each Navy program. They hired a subcontractor to laminate the flat panel glass for greater rigidity and to add heaters, filters, and anti-reflection coatings.
Meanwhile, Grunder & Associates designers integrated high-brightness backlights, control electronics, and enclosures themselves, and tested to meet specifications. So far, they have delivered one program and expect to deliver displays on the other two very shortly, Nichols says.
ImageQuest was also developing displays in the 5ATI format as replacements for existing CRT-based aviation instrumentation. With ImageQuest`s departure, OIS and the Rockwell International Corp. Collins Avionics & Communications Division in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, are the only suppliers of these displays. Collins engineers ruggedize glass from Japanese supplier Sharp.
Dusty Tenney, a former product manager at the AlliedSignal Aerospace Co. General Aviation Avionics Division in Olathe, Kan., says he was shocked to hear of the closure of ImageQuest.
"We have worked with them since February of 1996 to help them solve problems and deliver displays. They spent a long time working on their process, but it just never reached maturity. We probably received only two or three samples, and they were not of sufficient quality to go into production," Tenney says.
Optical Imaging Systems of Northville, Mich., the maker of the active-matrix liquid crystal display pictured above, is one of only a handful of remaining North American flat-panel glass manufacturers after ImageQuest closed its doors.