OLED provides the best performance of any display tech available today, with deep blacks, rich colors and a wide viewing angle that LED-lit LCD sets can’t touch. But the complex and inefficient techniques used to manufacture OLED TVs result in low yields, and that means high prices for sets that use the technology.

The current situation with expensive OLEDs is about to change, however. At the recent FlexTech Alliance’s Flexible and Printed Electronics conference, exciting new fabrication techniques were presented that promise to make big-screen OLED HDTVs—and UHDTVs—more affordable. The key developments include new manufacturing equipment, processes and inks. We’ve gleaned details on these from a presentation provided by the FlexTech Alliance and trade publication CE Daily. Read all about ‘em after the break.

A major player in the move to making big-screen OLED TVs affordable is Merck’s EMD Chemicals division. Michele Ricks, a business development manager at Merck, provided HD Guru with a PowerPoint presentation that details how the new displays will be manufactured.

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Printing pixels

The current method used to produce big-screen OLED panels is vacuum thermal evaporation (VTE), a cost-effective technique for making small tablet and smartphone screens, but one that’s expensive for big TV screens (due to low yields). That’s why you’ll pay at least $6500  for  a 2014 55-inch LG OLED or $9,000 for Samsung’s 55-inch curved screen S9 model.

In 2012, however, Merck and Epson launched a joint venture that resulted in Epson’s inkjet printer technology being used to apply the sub-pixels in OLED displays. Merck, meanwhile, has created new materials that promise longer panel lifespans and higher brightness than OLEDs manufactured using the current VTE method.

Merck claims that the new processes and inks result in lifespans of more than 50,000 hours for red sub-pixels and over 130,000 hours for green—twice as long as what current solutions deliver. The company’s presentation doesn’t mention a lifespan improvement for blue sub-pixels, however.

Yield of dreams

Tokyo Electron (currently being acquired by Flextronics) has developed machine tools to fabricate large OLED panels using the new inkjet printing techniques. The first example has been sold to an undisclosed customer, and, according to Ricks, Tokyo Electron expects for it to be installed in 2015. Ricks anticipates that it may take six months to remove bugs from the process following installation.

Current big-screen OLEDs manufactured using vapor deposition reportedly have yields of under 40 percent, meaning that more than 6 out of every 10 panels produced are tossed out due to defects. Ricks expects that inkjet-printed big-screen OLEDs will have yields similar to sub-10-inch panels: in the 90-95 percent range, though achieving that yield will take some time.

If the information provided by Merck is on target, HD Guru expects that prices for big-screen OLEDs will dip down to the point where the tech can compete with LCD by 2017. We intend to follow this story closely, so check back for additional details.


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