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Fraunhofer demonstrating OLEDs integrated into textiles

10 Sep 2018

Illuminated wearables will be fashionable, functional and eye-catching; to debut next week at Dresden's ESTC 2018 show.

Organic light-emitting diodes are primarily knownfor their applications in TV screens and smart phone displays. And these OLEDs are also increasingly used as sources in car lighting systems, such as in tail lights.

Now the Fraunhofer Institute for Organic Electronics, Electron Beam and Plasma Technology (FEP) has developed OLED elements that can be integrated into textiles. They will make their debut at next week’s Electronics System Integration Technology Conference (ESTC 2018), which runs from September 18 - 21, in Dresden, Germany.

The versatile OLEDs can not only light in color, they can also be designed in any shape and even transparent or dimmable. Applied on wafer-thin foils, they are now finding their way into textiles. The range of applications is diverse and not limited to fashion trends or distinctive brand and design elements.

Jan Hesse, OLED design and integration specialist in the field of flexible organic electronics at Fraunhofer FEP, commented, "The integration of luminous elements in clothing not only freshens up fashion designs, it can also create very concrete benefits: Luminous logos or applications are more easily noticed and considerably increase the visibility and thus the safety of the wearer, such as in road traffic.” Their use could be conceivable, for example in workwear for night activities.

Since scientists can adapt OLEDs to deliver specific wavelength ranges, special applications such as in medicine are also possible, Hesse added. “Infrared light, for example, is successful in the therapy of skin diseases. There is the possibility of shirts with integrated flat infrared lights to be used for light therapy.”

On the button

To simplify the integration of OLED elements in clothing and to give designers the opportunity to use the technology in an uncomplicated way, the FEP scientists have developed a functional button. This so-called O-button combines a wafer-thin foil-based OLED with a microcontroller on a conventional circuit board.

This circuit board in the shape of a button is attached to the textile with conductive yarn and supplied or controlled with electrical power. The OLED itself is continuously dimmable. Two-color-variable variants of the button are also available.

Hesse said, “There are almost no limits to the structuring of OLEDs. The textiles finished in this way are supposed to give designers ideas for new innovative designs and thereby open up further areas of application.”

Fraunhofer FEP is providing samples of the O-button for this purpose; the research organization can convert individualized designs into initial prototypes and can be a partner up to pilot production. Scientists are already collaborating with designers in the fashion industry. Challenges regarding further textile integration, washability or recycling are tackled and further developed together with partners. The first OLED fashion is expected to be on display in stores in about three years, says FEP.

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