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DuPont develops new process to print cheaper OLED displays at scale

OLED displays are the current gold standard when it comes to televisions and computer screens. But they're frighteningly expensive and impossible to scale. DuPont says it will change that.

Organic light emitting diode, or OLED, displays are the current gold standard when it comes to televisions and computer screens. They're energy efficient, thin, and oh yes -- bright, vivid and crisp, too.

One problem? They're ridiculously expensive, owing to the fact that OLED displays are difficult to make at scale.

However, DuPont Displays announced last week that it has developed a new manufacturing process that can be used to print larger-size displays -- big enough for televisions -- at volumes that can significantly reduce fabrication costs, particularly on a cost-per-square-inch basis.

The process involves a custom-made printer from Tokyo, Japan-based Dai Nippon Printing, which can print a 50-inch television in under two minutes, reports MIT Technology Review.

Better still, at eight hours per day, that screen can last 15 years.

Currently, OLEDs are made using a technique called "shadow-mask evaporation." But the procedure is expensive and limited to small batches. For example, the largest OLED display on the market, a 15-inch television made by LG, is slated to debut in the U.S. this year for a whopping $2,725.

Printing is one such way to work at scale, but it's difficult to ensure quality. "It's been a major materials challenge to develop inks that won't bleed during the printing process, that have the desired electrical and optical properties, and that don't deteriorate over time," reports Katherine Bourzac in Technology Review.

Currently, OLED displays consist of 12 to 15 layers of material. Unfortunately, printing blends them together, reducing performance.

DuPont says it solved the problem by using active molecules in the inks used to print each layer, which happen to be insoluble in the inks used to print adjacent layers.

With a new multi-nozzle printer that produces a stream of ink, rather than droplets, licensed manufacturers can make long-lasting displays at four to five meters per second.

The big question: can the new OLED display process compete with LCDs on cost?

Nevertheless, OLED is a hot area for development, and companies such as Universal Display Corporation, Merck Chemicals and Sumitomo Chemical are all gunning to make better OLED inks.

That's good news for consumers. With that kind of competition, a price drop is just over the horizon.

Images: DuPont

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com