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Future shines bright for OLED lighting

Posted: 29 Sep 2008 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:OLED? display market? lighting solid state?

The OLED lighting market will hit almost $4.5 billion by 2013 according to a new report from market research group NanoMarkets.

The analysts claimed that prospects for the sector have made great leaps forward in the past year due to improvements in OLED performance and manufacturing.

The report stated that while unit costs of OLED lights are likely to remain higher than older general lighting technologies, the extra costs will be offset by improved OLED lifetimes and efficiencies. Over this year, lifetimes are said to have improved from 24Khrs to 100Khrs.

The U.S. Department of Energy expects OLED lighting to reach 150lm/W efficiency in 2012 rather than 2014 as previously forecast, the firm noted.

Manufacturing processes for OLEDs have also progressed significantly. GE and the Fraunhofer Institute have both demonstrated roll-to-roll (R2R) manufacturing of OLED lighting, which will ultimately lead to significant cost improvements in OLED fabrication.

Low cost printing approaches and new small molecule inks will also help propel OLEDs into the backlighting market. The OLED backlighting market is expected to reach $1.1 billion by 2015.

Bigger displays
While the first OLED lighting panels are quite small, the report said that the recent scaling up of factories in Asia to build large OLED displays will benefit the manufacturing infrastructure for OLED lighting and lead to larger panels within a few years.

NanoMarkets noted that the flat and flexible format presented by OLEDs creates an opportunity to design high-value added lighting fixtures with an appeal to upscale consumers and especially architects. The group cited lighting designer Ingo Maurer, who introduced the first OLED "function table light" earlier this year, and that researchers at GE are targeting lighted curtains and lighted wallpaper.

By 2015 sales of OLED architectural and specialist industrial lighting is expected to reach $1.9 billion. The report also noted that the emergence of OLEDs into solid state lighting systems provides an interesting diversification for OLED display firms that have been frustrated by the twists and turns of the OLED display market.

However, the market researchers cautioned that while it is easy to make a case for printed and OLED devices in the lighting market, as in many cases, "the devil is in the details."

For example, OLED lighting may be able to offer remarkable things such as flexible lamps, but no one yet knows where the demand lies for that capability and whether the perceived value will justify the additional cost.

OLED challenges
NanoMarkets noted that the potential for low-cost printing and even R2R manufacturing processes is opening up exciting possibilities for price points that would greatly accelerate the adoption of LED lighting. But the report said that to date, nobody has proven out their materials set and manufacturing processes in a real-world high-volume environment.

The biggest challenge of all for OLED and printed lighting is likely to be in general-purpose lighting. The report, however, questioned as to what degree consumers would be willing to pay for relatively expensive OLED lights (when they become available) when incandescent and fluorescent lights are so inexpensive.

"There are no clear answers to such questions yet," the report stressed.

In part, this is because OLED display and lighting technologies are at such an early stage of development. Although displays have already been shipping for almost ten years, their manufacturing operations are many generations behind LCD fabs. The largest OLED display yet fielded is only 11 inches in diagonal, and most of the devices on the streets are in the 2- to 3-inch realm.

OLED lighting is an even more recent phenomenon. Its capabilities in brightness, efficiency and lifetime have reached the "good enough" stage, and OLED-based lighting products are in the works.

The researchers said that OLED lighting has also been able to piggyback on the substantial development work being conducted for OLED displaysin terms of materials, manufacturing and other aspectsand it will continue to do so.

It will, for example, benefit as display manufacturers begin pushing to larger size devices in the next several years to challenge active-matrix LCDs and small PDPs in TV applications. Display makers will also be pushing towards larger substrates in order to multiply the resulting number of displays provided per substrate.

Manufacturing equipment developed for large-substrate displays will also benefit OLED lighting manufacturing, where large area coverage is the main objective.

Market competition
The report also noted that it is not just ILEDs, incandescent bulbs and fluorescent lights that present competition for OLEDs. There are some other technologies (including some printable technologies) that present competition in certain applications.

In backlights for keypads and instrument panels, thick-film electroluminescent (EL) lamps are the technology to beat. EL is likely to thrive where the higher brightness potential of OLEDs is not required and where efficiency is not a major issue. As it persists and even spreads out in the market, it will continue to illustrate the benefits of printable, flexible lamps and fertilize the field for OLEDs.

Also, the carbon nanotubes (CNTs) for lighting (or displays) are said to provide a very rugged, damage-resistant structure. CNT lighting may also prove printable and thus promise a low cost manufacturing regimen. CNT lighting is also transparent.

- John Walko
EE Times

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