Our future with OLED displays
Imagine a phone you can fold up and put in your pocket. This might sound like science fiction, but the work of OLED manufacturers and their research partners means that possibility is just around the corner.
DID YOU KNOW?
smartphones are now on the market using OLED displays.
is the estimated amount by which the OLED display area produced will increase between 2018 and 2025.
OLED pixels are needed for one of today’s high-resolution UHD 4K-standard TV screens.
OLED display technology will create foldable phones and transparent TVs
Screens both large and small are now commonplace in our daily lives. From smartphones to computer screens to huge advertising display screens, it’s rare to go through a day without interacting with at least one, more likely several.
Until recently these screens were almost entirely LCD (liquid crystal display) technology, but in the last few years OLED (organic light-emitting diode) has taken the stage. And it’s now recognized as the gold standard.
OLED has opened up a whole array of new possibilities for screens both large and small. We’re used to seeing transparent touch screens and displays in futuristic films, but these are just one of the exciting developments currently underway in OLED research.
Meanwhile foldable phones and rollable screens aren’t just on the horizon, but already in production. Imagine folding up your phone and putting it in your pocket, or a screen printed onto clothing. OLED technology is literally making science fiction a reality.
What are OLED displays?
To understand how OLED technology can promise such exciting developments, we need to take a step back and look at how it actually works.
Each OLED display pixel consists of a stack of different thin organic layers sandwiched between an anode and a cathode. When a small electrical field is applied, the OLED starts to emit light. When the electric field is turned off, the OLED stops emitting light, yielding a black pixel. The color emitted by the OLED is defined by the organic materials used and the stack design.
Because the organic material itself is emitting light, OLED displays have no need for a backlight, unlike LCD screens. This means that with OLED you can achieve a true black on the screen.
In mobile screens, the lack of backlight also means OLED consumes less power than LCD, and makes them lighter and thinner too. And in addition, OLEDs can be applied on rigid glass or on flexible substrates like plastic or metal foils, turning virtually every surface into a display or light source.
If this wasn’t enough, OLED TV and other OLED screens also deliver unparalleled color brilliance and high contrast, creating a richer viewing experience.
OLED TVs, smartphones and more are a growing part of everyday life
OLED is already considered the gold standard for display screens, with OLED TVs and smartphones on the market now. They’re also increasingly being used in devices like smart watches and Virtual Reality (VR) goggles.
Most of the major smartphone manufacturers’ flagship phones feature OLED display technology. In fact, there were over one billion phones with OLED screens on the market in July 2018. That’s up from 720 million in July 2016 (growth of 41%).
“It’s an exciting and dynamic market,” says Remi Anemian, Head of OLED Product Development at Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany.
Our team has the opportunity to lead the way in developing some of the most advanced screen technology in the world. It feels incredible every time our materials are qualified for new commercial devices launched by our customers. Just a few recent examples are the iPhone X and LGD’s OLED TV.
“To know that the material I work on is also in the device that I carry with me all day long and that my friends and family use the same device – that’s pretty amazing. In a way, a part of my work is with them all the time.”
Is printing the future for OLED manufacturers?
One of the areas that Anemian is currently working on is printing, a process that will significantly reduce the cost of OLED manufacturing.
At the beginning of 2014, most OLED displays were still manufactured using complex vacuum evaporation technology. But this isn’t an optimal process for efficiently mass-producing large displays.
The solution is to print displays using inkjet technology. While the principles of this are not unlike those behind an office printer, it places much higher demands on the ‘ink’ as well as the design and control of the printing head. Researchers are looking into all aspects of this inkjet printing process, including the viscosity of the ink and the geometry of the jets used to create the miniscule droplets. These tiny blobs of ink, which are only 20 trillionths of a liter (picoliter), become the components of a colored light-emitting diode.
Eight million of these pixels are needed for one of today’s high-resolution UHD 4K-standard TV screens. And every one of those pixels has to function perfectly, because the human eye is very sensitive to deviations in color and brightness.
While OLED printing has some very clear advantages – producing larger displays with higher power efficiency – there are also some clear research challenges to overcome because of the complex interaction of different variables that will make the printing process accurate and efficient. These include the OLED materials themselves, the ink formulations, the printing process and the OLED stack design – all of which our researchers are investigating.
We and OLED - taking on new challenges
Competition in the OLED field is fierce, meaning that developments are being driven at considerable pace. It’s estimated that the amount of display area produced – literally measured in square kilometers – is likely to increase four-fold between 2018 and 2025.
So, what makes us a contender in this field?
“We go where others have failed,” says Remi Anemian. “We’ve been working in OLED technology for over 15 years. Thanks to our established relationships with panel manufacturers and our deep understanding of the display industry we’re in a great position to push the envelope. The future has never been brighter or more colorful.”
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