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Project plans to bring flexible OLEDs to market by 2019

Posted: 07 Feb 2013 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:flexible OLEDs? manufacturing chain? fabrication? plastic films?

With the aim of bringing flexible OLEDs to market within six years, the $14.68 million Flex-o-Fab project will create a pilot-scale manufacturing chain for the technology and use it to develop reliable fabrication and production processes.

Funded through the EU's 7th Framework Programme, the project will strengthen Europe's leading position in the lighting industry by making flexible OLEDs a commercial reality.

Organic light-emitting diodes (OLEDs) are a revolutionary new light source. Emitting light efficiently over a large area and in a wide range of attractive colours, they open up a world of new lighting possibilities. The first OLED productsrigid glass tiles- are already on the market. However, OLEDs also offer the exciting possibility of being produced on plastic films and foils to create flexible light sources. Flexible OLEDs would be more robust and could be produced at even lower cost than glass-based OLEDs. Moreover, they could be embedded into all kinds of everyday objects.

Flexible OLEDs have been successfully demonstrated on the laboratory scale by many groups. Now the Flex-o-Fab project aims to take flexible OLEDs from lab to fab by developing reliable processes for manufacturing OLEDs on plastic foils. To do this, the project will set up a modular yet integrated pilot production line and associated manufacturing chain.

Flex-o-Fab will draw on technologies and expertise already used to produce glass-based OLEDs and flexible displays. It will look to migrate existing sheet-to-sheet processes to roll-to-roll (R2R) production to further reduce costs and enable high-volume production. Where manufacturing processes don't already exist, the project will develop new solutions that are compatible with R2R production.

One of the key challenges in moving from glass-based to flexible devices is ensuring the sensitive OLED materials are well protected from the environment. Here the project will use a multi-layer barrier technology developed by Holst Centre that has been shown to outperform all other available barriers, scaling it up for R2R pilot production (by Roth & Rau and Holst Centre).

A number of novel anode technologies will also be developed (by Epigem, EPFL, SPGPrints, TUT, Orbotech and Holst Centre). These need to be highly transparent with low resistivity, reliable, robust and scalable for R2R production on foil substrates. Other challenges include developing suitable and possibly functionalized polymer foils (by DTF) for R2R flexible OLED production; robust inspection and quality control technologies (by Orbotech) for high-yield manufacturing; reliable handling methods for processing on polymer foil substrates (by Henkel, Holst Centre, CSEM and Philips) and high-performance flexible OLED stack on foil (by Philips).

Flex-o-Fab aims to have a proof-of-concept pilot line operational by September 2015. Although the project focuses on OLED lighting, its results could also be applied to other emerging flexible electronics applications, such as organic photovoltaic (OPV) solar cells, flexible displays and smart food packaging. To further speed up industrialisation, the project aims to develop a universal substrate foil that could be used for both OLED and OPV applications, bringing new market opportunities for commercial partners.

Flex-o-Fab consortium members (as of January 30, 2013) include:

  1. Holst Centre / TNO (Project coordinator) Netherlands
  2. Philips Research Netherlands, Germany
  3. Philips Technologie GmbH Germany
  4. Orbotech Ltd. Israel
  5. Institute of Microengineering, ?cole Polytechnique Fdrale de Lausanne (EPFL) Switzerland
  6. Henkel Electronics Materials N.V. Belgium
  7. SPGPrints Netherlands
  8. Epigem Ltd. UK
  9. Tampere University of Technology (TUT) Finland
  10. Roth & Rau Microsystems GmbH Germany
  11. Dupont Teijin Films UK Ltd (DTF) UK
  12. CSEM / Basel Switzerland

Funded through the European Union's Seventh Framework Programme (FP7), the Flex-o-Fab project will run for 36 months beginning October 1, 2012.

- Julien Happich
??EE Times

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