ITF: Entering the booming market of mobile displays

In an exclusive series of blogs, imec’s science writers report from the International Technology Forum (ITF) in Brussels. This year, ITF’s theme was “It’s a changing world. Let’s make a sustainable change together”.

What would our smart world be without displays? That was the question posed by imec’s Paul Heremans, Fellow and Director Large Area Electronics, in a presentation titled “Towards flexible active matrix OLED displays.” On a daily basis, we run our eyes over dozens of displays for various purposes, he said. And this number might increase if we look at the innovations that the display industry has in mind. No more newspapers or paper novels, but digital e-readers on mobile displays. No more paper posters for advertisement, but digital posters on large flexible screens. It’s time for a new era where OLED displays and flexible displays on plastic substrates enter the market and gradually replace cathode ray tubes and liquid crystal displays. They will enable a new wave of products and an increase of the display market size in general.

Meanwhile, the first commercial OLED displays have appeared in consumer products. So, how can an R&D centre such as imec and Holst Centre contribute to such a promising and fast evolving industry? Flexible OLED displays can be extensively adopted, e.g. in flexible posters for advertisement, as rollable TV screens, or, in smaller format,  as an e-reader or on a smart card. And all these applications come with very different specifications. Therefore, says Heremans, it’s important to focus on just one, or on a very few, applications. And they chose the mobile tablet display as the point of focus of their new technology integration program, launched by imec and Holst Centre at the beginning of 2012. The mobile tablet will gather all functionalities of a mobile phone, e-reader, digital camera, MP3 player, tablet pc, netbook… in just one device. The screen must be comfortable enough to be read and touched, and small, thin and flexible enough to be mobile. Such a display must be low power, low cost and high resolution. A humidity barrier, new thin-film transistor technology to drive the pixels, innovative technologies for patterning… the list of required innovations is impressive.

According to Heremans, the prospects are good. The researchers involved in the program can rely on 6 years of experience in the various building blocks, obtained from collaboration within Holst Centre. As a result, only one quarter after the launch of the program, they have realized the first integrated display. It’s not yet the targeted 300ppi OLED display, but it’s good enough to study the pixel engines and to understand what improvements need to be done in order to get to the ultimate targeted mobile tablet display.

Mieke Van Bavel, science editor, imec, Belgium

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