Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany and its partners are working hard to innovate the way drivers see the information on their dashboard. Thanks to brand new LC technology, it can all be in the display.


“The dashboard of the future will feature free-form, almost organic shapes that are in line with the designers’ vision and drivers’ needs,” Mathias Stegemann says. He certainly knows what he’s talking about, since Stegemann heads the Cockpit & Instruments team at Alpine Electronics GmbH in Munich. This company is one of the world’s leading suppliers of all types of automotive LC displays — whether they are on the dashboard or entertaining passengers in the rear seats.

The LC display is an all-rounded and designer item. Alpine’s business is to buy the basic LC displays and adapt them to the special requirements of automotive use. “We do this in close cooperation with the automakers, and the process encompasses a whole series of development steps,” says Stegemann, describing his daily work. 

Priority #1: safety

Ensuring the safety of the vehicle’s occupants is always a top priority with respect to choosing the right displays. For example, during a crash the LC display breaks at precisely calculated points and its safety glass crumbles into harmless particles in order to minimize the risk of injury to the passengers. “But such an LC display must also for example be able to withstand a collision with a washing machine that is being transported inside the vehicle,” Stegemann adds.

The dashboard of the future will feature free-form, almost organic shapes.

mathias stegemann

Alpine Electronics GMBH

Freely formed, meticulously designed

In addition to a high level of safety, buyers expect displays to be touch-operated, have a high-quality appearance, and produce clear and bright images that are clearly visible even when the sun is low on the horizon. “That’s a broad range of characteristics that must be harmonized with one another,” says Stegemann. The shape of LC displays is still fairly rectangular and flat. “That will change,” he adds, as he reaches into a drawer and takes out a nearly wave-shaped piece of glass that resembles a classic vase by the Finnish designer Alvar Aalto.

“This is what the next generation of automotive LC displays could look like,” says Stegemann. He is visibly pleased as he unveils a sketch of an almost futuristic-looking car cockpit in which the LC display can be freely formed in all three dimensions.

The secret of flexibility: made possible by Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany

This flexibility is made possible by one of the many innovations with which Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany is driving the development of liquid-crystal technology. “When you are creating free-form displays, one of the most important things is to make sure the cell gap of the liquid crystals device remains constant even upon bending,” says Luc Yao, who works on the development of these technologies within the LC2021 initiative at Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany.

In simple terms, polymer wall LC technology involves constructing robust polymer walls directly within the liquid crystal layer of the panel. These ensure that the cell gap remains constant even when an LC display is simultaneously curved in different bending radii.    

Correct cell gap is critical for proper LC display function. If display is bent, gap may change and impair image. Correct cell gap is critical for proper LC display function. If display is bent, gap may change and impair image.


The correct cell gap (double arrows) is absolutely critical for the proper functioning of the LC display. If a conventional display is bent, this gap may change and impair the image.

Polymer wall structures keep constant cell gap even when display is bent. Image quality therefore remains unchanged.v Polymer wall structures keep constant cell gap even when display is bent. Image quality therefore remains unchanged.v


By contrast, polymer wall structures guarantee a constant cell gap even when the display is bent. The quality of the image remains unchanged across the entire surface of the display.

A new frontier

As a result, a uniformly bright, clear and true-color image is provided at all times. This is only one of the effects of the innovations from Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany — and an especially visible one at that. Additional innovations are opening up new dimensions in an innovative manufacturing process.

This also thrills Mathias Stegemann at Alpine, who used to design the displays of flight instruments for helicopters. “Our customers from the automotive industry want even lighter modules as well,” he says. “Besides, during collisions plastic is safer than glass.”    

Thanks to a newly developed manufacturing process, display panels can now be produced at lower temperatures. As a result, we can now also print displays onto plastic substrates instead of just onto glass, as was previously the case.

luc yao

Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany

Concept car shows innovative freeform displays. Concept car shows innovative freeform displays.

Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany has presented a concept car that highlights innovative freeform displays.

Revolutionizing the driving experience

“The activities of Alpine, which has 12,000 employees worldwide, can be summarized as driving mobile media innovation,” says Stegemann. The company’s first drivers of mobile media innovation consisted of amplifiers, car radios, and CD changers. “However, we are now heading toward offices on wheels,” says Stegemann about the self-driving cars of the future, which will give drivers time for work or also entertainment while they are on the road.

A new perspective on innovations

All of these developments are making LC displays even more important and strengthening the role played by Alpine. As a result, Alpine regards itself as not only an automotive supplier but also a company in the middle of a chain that extends from the developers of LC materials to the producers of the actual displays, the automakers, and the customers.

Luc Yao at Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany is also enthusiastic about this development. “Because Alpine doesn’t manufacture basic displays, it isn’t a direct customer of our liquid crystal materials,” he says. “However, we’ve recently started to cooperate closely with companies such as Alpine, who are the customers of our customers. This keeps us even more abreast of market developments and also enables all of our partners, including the end customers, to benefit sooner from innovations.”    

Related Stories

View All Stories


An Edge on the Market

Deploying Customer-Driven Innovation


The Moti­vating Force behind Pioneers

8 Curious Discoveries


You have accessed, but for users from your part of the world, we originally designed the following web presence

Let's go

Share Disclaimer

By sharing this content, you are consenting to share your data to this social media provider. More information are available in our Privacy Statement