OLED Lighting Devices Created by GE on Roll-to-Roll Process  (Source: Business Wire)
GE demos OLED manufacturing process similar to a newspaper printer

Looking at the future of displays for TVs, computers, and other electronic devices OLED is one of the main contenders to replace the traditional LCD screens common today. The problem with OLED displays at this time is that the manufacturing process required to produce the OLED screens is, for now, relatively cumbersome and costly.

GE has been conducting research into cheaper methods of manufacturing OLEDs funded by a $13 million research collaboration between GE Global Research, Energy Conversion Devices, Inc. (ECD) and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). NIST funded the research with the goal of demonstrating a cheap, commercially viable way to mass produce OLED products.

GE announced today it succeeded in devising a method to cheaply produce OLED lighting products using a newspaper printing like roll to roll process. Anil Duggal, manager of GE’s advanced Technology Program in Organic Electronics wrote in a blog post, “about 4 years ago, we set out to find out for ourselves whether it could be done.  We found a partner company (Energy Conversion Devices or ECD) with great experience at making roll-to-roll equipment and together we were successful in winning a proposal that we submitted to a government agency (NIST) looking to help fund high risk technology development.”

What Duggal and his team of researchers did was devise a method of manufacturing OLED lighting products on a roll-to-roll machine. ECD then built the roll-to-roll machine needed for the manufacturing process.

Duggal went on to write, “Because this had never been done before, we faced some real technical challenges - especially given our program time constraints that often meant we had to start designing machine modules before we had the device fabrication process completely figured out!  Anyway, in the end it all came together and we were successful in making our deliverable.”

While OLED lighting is an interesting proposition for lighting homes and business in the future, the really interesting application of the roll to roll technology for technophiles will be if the technology used to make the lighting products can be refined for use in making OLED panels for electronics.

According to Duggal, “Beyond OLEDs, this technology also could have broader impact in the manufacturing of other organic electronic devices such as organic photovoltaics for solar energy conversion, sensors and roll-up displays.”

This process could lead to cheap, easy to produce OLED TVs and PC displays in the future. The reason Sony cites for its low production volume and high relative cost of its XEL-1 OLED TV is the cost and complexity of making the OLED panel itself on traditional production lines, though almost every manufacturer agrees OLEDs will eventually cost substantially less than LCDs of the same size.

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