Stratacache Tower in Dayton (Foto: Stratacache)
Chris Riegel

"MicroLED Is a Movement, Not Just a Technology"

From media players to visual solutions: Stratacache wants to be the single source for everything. CEO Chris Riegel’s biggest coup: the construction of his own MicroLED production facility. Part 2 of the exclusive invidis interview.

In recent years, we have not had an interview with Chris Riegel without a dig at China. The Stratacache CEO likes to emphasize how the Western market needs to become more independent of the Far East. He did so again in this interview, which invidis conducted exclusively between NRF and ISE. Chris Riegel will not be able to make it to ISE in Barcelona in person, but the European Scala team will be represented with a booth in Digital Signage Hall 6, like last year.

Chris Riegel: „The Market Has Been Unleashed“

„A Movement, Not Just a Technology“

Chris Riegel recognized the potential of MicroLED early on – and not just for the digital signage industry. At the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020, he bought an empty chip factory with a clean room on the US West Coast with the aim of setting up his own MicroLED production facility. In the digital signage industry, this is a revolutionary step: A software company – Scala – transforms itself into an integrator and further into a full-service provider with its own visual solution manufacturing. But Chris Riegel is known for unusual business decisions that challenge conventional wisdom.

After some delay due to delivery problems of production machines and tooling, manufacturing is now scheduled to start at the end of 2023. The last machines are now scheduled to be delivered in Q2. Stratacache plans to manufacture MicroLED not only for digital signage use, but also other industries such as automotive. „LED is not just a technology, it’s a movement,“ says Chris Riegel. One that could change the LED market from the ground up.

MicroLED for Under a Billion US dollars

There’s a good reason, according to Chris Riegel, why Apple and other vendors are now consistently moving to MicroLED as a display replacement. „MicroLED is 80 to 90 percent more efficient than traditional display technology. MicroLED’s low power consumption enables new designs, such as battery-powered screens, or screens unobtrusively integrated into semiconductors“. Riegel uses the example of notebooks to illustrate the energy efficiency of MicroLED: While a notebook with a conventional display allows a battery life of five hours, with a MicroLED display of the same is said to have a lifespan many times this duration.

In conversation with invidis, the Stratacache CEO is obviously fascinated by MicroLED. Building a MicroLED production facility costs under a billion US Dollars, while LCD-TFT production facilities cost ten times as much. „Especially in politically uncertain times, where the West and China are moving apart, MicroLED can reduce digital signage’s dependence on China“. Chris Riegel has already explained his vision in previous conversations with invidis – that the future MicroLED prouction is closer to its sales market. With MicroLED, factories in the US or Germany will become financially feasible for the first time. „Private companies cannot compete with corporations supported by the Chinese state such as BOE or CSOT“.

MicroLED from Outdoor to Contact Lens

The MicroLED offerings available to date have focused on high-quality indoor use cases. „From a technical perspective, outdoor MicroLED solutions with up to one million nits of brightness are possible,“ Chris Riegel emphasizes. Unlike today’s popular high-brightness displays, MicroLED has no problem with polarizers turning brown. MicroLED is also said to have a TCO advantage in terms of price.

MicroLED will usher in a new display era, according to Riegel – „the age of non-conventional displays“. For example, MicroLED can be applied to a ceramic tape as a substrate. The self-adhesive tape can, for example, be easily attached to round columns. Chris Riegel sees another use case in contact lenses. „One supplier has already integrated MicroLED into contact lenses to simplify everyday life for the visually impaired – or for James Bond-like applications.“

In a few years, Chris Riegel expects MicroLED sales of 7-10 billion US Dollars for Stratacache. „The potential is huge,“ the CEO emphasizes. To access it, the company is investing 100 million US Dollars annually in research and development.

Scala Modernization To Be Completed in 2023

Contrary to the prevailing opinion in the digital signage market, Chris Riegel sees Scala at the finishing line of the modernization process. With the release of Scala 13 in fall of 2022, the modernization of one of the world’s most popular digital signage CMS-platforms has taken a major step forward. „We have made Scala into a modern platform. When we acquired Scala in 2016, the CMS only ran on 1,000 US Dollar Windows players. Today, Scala runs on virtually all platforms – from Windows to Linux on a 100 US Dollar US ARM player made by Scala.“

Currently, Scala is working on an „exceptionally large feature set“ that should be available by the end of 2023. This is intended to make Scala a leading in-store retail experience platform.