Looking for the Ultimate in Display Technology

It sounds like the beginning of a bad joke, but what do a leading EMS, two universities, and the US Department of Energy have in common? They are all working separately on technologies that, if combined, will lead to the ultimate solution in display technology.

This week, EMS {complink 4773|Sanmina-SCI Corp.} entered into a manufacturing agreement with solar inverter maker KACO new energy Inc.; MIT demonstrated solar panels that can be printed on paper; and eMagin, the University of Rochester, and the US Department of Energy are partnering to develop the next generation of organic light-emitting diodes (OLEDs).

OLED is a technology that enables displays to be developed on flexible substrates. Someday, proponents of OLED displays promise, users will be able to roll up solar-powered displays into a cigar-sized tube and take them along wherever they go.

It's not as far-fetched as it sounds. OLEDs are already extensively used for displays on smartphones, cameras, and other electronics products. OLEDs, which need little to no backlighting, can actually be sprayed onto glass, plastic, or other substrates. This allows a display to be flexible, and OLEDs are particularly good displays to use in bright sunlight because, unlike LCDs, they don't fade. That's because OLEDs don't require the same lighting sources that most displays do.

So far, the use of OLEDs for displays has been limited because their quality is best when used on small screens. But a number of companies, including eMagin, have been working on improving both OLEDs and manufacturing technologies so they can be used on bigger-area displays.

Another barrier to widespread OLED adoption is the materials do require some kind of energy to boost them into emitting light. To date, this has required the attachment of a layer of circuits — similar to those in LCDs — to keep the OLEDs lit.

Andrew G. Sculley, president and CEO of eMagin noted in a press release:

    While OLEDs are giving consumers efficient, brighter and faster electronic displays, about 80 percent of light is trapped inside the device and is wasted. Therefore, the partnership [with the U of R and the DoE] will seek to drastically improve the amount of useful light emitted from the device by developing technologies that use nano-particle based plasmonic scattering of light.

Better yet, OLEDs could actually be solar-powered. This week, MIT researchers demonstrated solar panels can be printed on substrates such as paper. According to an article on, the paper photovoltaic arrays are created through an oxidative chemical vapor deposition process at temperatures less than 120 degrees Celsius. Additionally, says CNET:

    Ordinary uncoated paper, cloth, or plastic can be used. The researchers printed solar cells on a layer of PET plastic, folded it 1,000 times, and found it would still work.

    Multiple layers and a paper mask are used to print the cells in a vacuum chamber. MIT says the procedure is nearly as cheap and easy as inkjet printing.

    The technology is years away from commercialization and efficiency is only about 1 percent. But the researchers hope to increase that dramatically by experimenting with different materials.

    The team has demonstrated the printing technique with regular printer paper, tissue, tracing paper, and even newsprint that had already been printed.

To make flexible, solar-powered OLED displays viable, however, mass production capabilities will be needed. EMS Sanmina-SCI is working with inverter maker KACO toward reducing the costs of manufacturing solar-powered products. Vince Lucia, VP operations, at KACO, said in a press release:

    As KACO grows in the U.S. market, the company needed to make sure that neither price nor lack of inventory would be a barrier for U.S. distributors. Sanmina-SCI gave KACO the U.S. manufacturing footprint, global supply chain, and logistical support needed to meet our cost and delivery objectives.

In order to meet KACO's objectives, the release adds, Sanmina-SCI established a dedicated core team for new product introduction, set up a new, dedicated manufacturing line, performed design-for-assembly analyses, designed custom toolsets, created detailed documentation, and established a new independent global supply chain and logistics support.

Display technology is increasingly becoming a key component — and a key differentiator — in all electronics products: look at how {complink 379|Apple Inc.} is shoring up its supply of iPad displays. (See: Apple Defies Risk-Management Convention.) OLED is a technology that can overcome a number of challenges currently faced by display makers, chiefly, power consumption. If at some point the electronics industry can combine power-savings, flexibility, and manufacturing prowess, OLED technology could be a game-changer.

10 comments on “Looking for the Ultimate in Display Technology

  1. mfbertozzi
    July 12, 2011

    Barbara, I am really convinced: it is not a joke! Yes, display is becoming a key component in electronic world for the fact is basically a “building block” for conceiving platform or services more complex. And speaking about end users, display provides a natural and emotional interaction at human level. Several players are growing up their business around it and new unknown market is coming, mixing communications-security-confort. Let me mention for example Legrand, but I am sure other worldwide players will arrive soon.

  2. Barbara Jorgensen
    July 12, 2011

    Thanks for the input…I thought I might be stretching things a bit but once some of the technology hurdles are overcome, there's no reason we can't have flexible solar-powered displays, and I agree–the display is becoming more and more important in terms of user interface and the whole user experience of a product. Which is why, no matter how good the displays get, I will not read books or watch videos on a smartphone!

  3. Daniel
    July 13, 2011

    Barbara, Display part is the end product part of all appliances. In other way we can say as the point of interaction with the user. So any enhancement or modification will get the product a better look and style. Eventhough, functionality and feature wise the product is not good, Display can make that product much attractive.

    July 13, 2011

    We supply chips to Korean display developers like Samsung and LG and it is truly amazing to visit their R&D facilities where one can see the technology being developed first hand.  I visited a few years ago when OLEDs were easily large enough for handhelds but struggling to meet the needs of the TV market.  However I believe the benefits are great enough that these companies will figure out how to manufacture large formats in high volume with high yields.  Of particular interest to me these days is the E-ink Kindle diplay which I find truly remarkable and the various efforts going in to 3-D displays without requiring silly goggles.

  5. Jay_Bond
    July 13, 2011

    OLED's are definately the wave of the future. With the flexability and low power consumption they are set for a large takeover. As you said, one of the pitfalls right now is needing mass production to be able to bring the overall cost to a reasonable level. It seems like if more companies were to work on some joint ventures we could soon see some very remarkable products and components hit the market. 

  6. Taimoor Zubar
    July 13, 2011

    OLEDs do seem a really cool invention. Since these can be printed and used on many materials, the flexibility seems the key factor here. I think these can revolutionize display technology in the future.

    Barbara, any idea about the cost of OLEDs in terms of the initial manufacturing cost? I think the cost factor will play a major role in the widespread use of OLEDs.


  7. elctrnx_lyf
    July 13, 2011

    I agree with you on the amount of research that is being done by companies like samsung and LG to come out with efficient and cheapest LCD displays. And surely OLED's will be able to do much more than hand held displays in the future.

  8. Ms. Daisy
    July 13, 2011


    This is exciting news on many levels! First is the potential of this technology to revolutionize electronic displays. Next is the unleashing of creativity and smart ideas coming out of our universities – the old American source of innovation.

    But more importantly is the collaboration of the colleges, the private sector, and the government. This is the true American spirit and I am elated to see its re-awakening. Thanks for sharing.

  9. Barbara Jorgensen
    July 13, 2011

    Unfortunately, OLEDS are likely to remain fairly expensive even as they become more widespread. There hasn't been a lot of investment in volume production facilities for OLED for a number of reasons: one, companies are waiting to see if they take off; two, the yields even on small screens is still low; three, there are still some contrast and color challenges to figure out before they can compete with LCDs. Once they do take off, however, they stand to be very competitive on price because of the inkjet-like technology they use and the potential for reel-to-reel maufacturing on huge sheets of plastic or other substrates.

  10. stochastic excursion
    July 14, 2011

    It's good to see advances in materials leading to possible innovations in the products we buy.  Organic nanomaterials are reported to have “tunable” properties, and maybe could be used to develop a substitute for rare earth, tantalum, and other commodity materials that have met with high demand recently.

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