18 Jan 2012
With organic LED TVs dominating the tech headlines, a new European collaboration will focus on a 'third wave' of flexible displays.
Last week, organic LED (OLED) televisions proved to be one of the highlights of the Consumer Electronics Show (CES); this week, a new European collaboration has outlined how it aims to go beyond the rigid displays developed by Samsung and LG, ushering in a future wave of the technology.
Microelectronics research hub imec in Belgium will work with the Holst Centre in Eindhoven, the Netherlands, to develop a scalable route to high-volume manufacturing of flexible active-matrix OLED displays.
At the moment, the $3 billion AMOLED displays market is dominated by applications in small-area mobile handset displays, and in particular by the Korean company Samsung, which has virtually cornered the technology with a market share in excess of 90%.
While European researchers produced some of the key early innovations in OLEDs, it is once again the large Asian companies that have made the early impact in terms of commercial developments. And with Samsung and compatriot LG Display making global headlines with their OLED TVs in Las Vegas, that looks set to continue in the short and medium term.
But according to Gerwin Gelinck, manager of the new open-ended research collaboration at the Holst Centre, this program will involve a number of industrial partners, offering some hope that large-scale production can be maintained in Europe.
Commenting on the introduction of OLED TVs, Gelinck said: “It shows that OLEDs are really finding their way in different display products. We believe that there will be a third wave of OLED display products, namely flexible OLED displays. Flexible displays are the main focal point of our activity. More specifically, highly flexible, high-resolution OLED displays for mobile applications.”
Because of the focus on flexibility, the European team will use plastic films as OLED substrates rather than the traditional glass substrates employed by Samsung. This means that the thin-film transistor (TFT) backplane must be made in a different way, and at much lower temperatures. In addition, a flexible and thin barrier layer is needed to protect the light-emitting materials from the degrading effects of oxygen and water.
Paul Heremans, who is managing the research program from the imec side, says that OLED displays using both organic and metal TFT backplanes have already been realized, and that some prototypes will be demonstrated this year – although the team is not yet ready to reveal any details of the likely size or resolution of those prototypes.
Among the named partners involved in the program is the Philips spin-out company Polymer Vision, although other (unspecified) large display makers are said by Gelinck to be working with the collaboration.
“Commercialization is done by our partners,” he told optics.org. “Besides Polymer Vision we are working with other (big) display makers.”
The scope of the research program also includes the development of new manufacturing equipment such as fine patterning equipment for backplanes, and tools for integrated roll-to-roll manufacturing.