OLED displays can be printed onto various surfaces - here is an example of a future bus station

OLED printing pilot factory opens in Germany

A test production facility for printing OLED displays and solar cells on various surfaces using a technology similar to an inkjet printer has been opened in Germany.

Using solutions containing luminescent organic and absorptive molecules, the facility, developed jointly by the Frauhofer Istitute for Applied Polymer Reasearch (IAP) and a mechanical engineering company MBRAUN, enables printing OLED and solar cells onto a carrier film on a nearly industrial scale.

“We’re now able to produce organic components under close-to-real-life manufacturing conditions with relative ease,” said Armin Wedel, head of division at IAP. “Now for the first time it will be possible to translate new ideas into commercial products.”

The organic light-emitting diodes, hailed as the next big thing coming in the world of electronics, enable creating flexible, ultra-thin displays that are believed to eventually replace the currently dominating LCDs. However, manufacturing of OLED is still in its early stages and is rather costly.

The printing technology, developed by the German team could be particularly useful to create large illuminated surfaces and information systems that could be attached to any possible object.

At the heart of the pilot plant is a robot that controls different printers. OLEDs are applied to the carrier material one layer at a time using a variety of starting materials. Homogenous surfaces can be produced by these technology, creating a perfect lighting layer.

“We’re able to service upscale niche markets by offering tailored solutions, as we can apply the organic electronic system to customers’ specifications, just like in digital printing,” said Wedel.

Industry experts estimate that printed OLEDs could soon become a billion-dollar industry. “The focus in Europe is on OLED lighting because this is the home market for large companies such as Osram and Philips,” said Wedel.

OLEDs have several advantages over conventional display technologies. Unlike liquid crystal displays they don’t require additional source of light, which means they consume less energy. OLED’s also offer more intense colours and higher contrast.

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