With the end of the year in sight, it's interesting to look back and review what has been new in the world of printed electronics in the last 12 months. This analysis is taken from the new IDTechEx Research report, Flexible, Printed and Organic Electronics 2019-2029 covering the entire sector in great detail, based on analyzing the industry for over 15 years.
1. Printed OLEDs are a reality
While printing has been used in manufacturing the thin film encapsulation layer of OLED displays for a number of years, it was only in December last year that JOLED of Japan brought to market the first inkjet printed active matrix OLED where the light emitters are printed. The 21.6 inch 4K display has a resolution of just over 200ppi.
While most investment in recent years in OLEDs has been in making OLEDs on plastic substrates as a stepping stone to flexible OLEDs, JOLED have targeted the tough prospect of printing the light emitters, seemingly to build a strong IP and know-how portfolio and potentially to license the technology to other display manufacturers in the future.
In August 2018, JOLED raised approximately $420million from four new investors, including from auto parts maker Denso, materials company Sumitomo and equipment company Screen Finetech.
Their plan is to use the money to develop a larger gen 5.5 line with the aim to potentially transfer and license the process. JOLED recently signed an agreement with Panasonic and Screen Finetech to develop, manufacture and sell printing equipment for printing OLED displays.
To learn more, JOLED will be one of the presenting keynotes at this year's Printed Electronics USA event on November 14-15, 2018.
2. Foldable displays a reality
IDTechEx predicted that the first foldable OLED displays would come to market in 2018, as covered in our report OLED Display Forecasts and Technologies 2019-2029.
Several companies are in the running, including Chinese based Nubia, aiming to release a long thin OLED display in a wearable device in China this year. Samsung, Huawei and others are hot on their heels. Last week, Royole Corporation entered the fray, announcing their foldable OLED display in a smart phone product, called FlexPai.
Source: Royole Corporation
The display is wrapped around one edge of the device, which can be unfolded to create a 7.8 inch screen. When it is folded, the display is sectioned into three screens - one on the rear, the front and a third on the side of the device. The company intend to start shipping the device in late December.
IDTechEx expect to see the launch of many products in 2019 using a foldable display. There will be an inevitable period of consumer assessment; creating a device with a completely new form factor and creating the best possible user experience for it is no easy feat, but it is certainly the future direction of consumer electronic devices.
Royole Corporation will also present on this device at the IDTechEx Printed Electronics USA event on November 14-15 in Santa Clara, USA.
3. Printing Hybrid Quantum Dot-OLED displays
In late 2018 Samsung are reported to be setting up a pilot manufacturing line for Quantum Dot (QD) OLED displays. This uses a blue OLED backlight and blue OLED light emitter for the blue pixel, with red and green QD color filters for the red and green pixels. According to one report the red and green QD materials will be inkjet printed with equipment supplied by Kateeva.
The display can combine the benefits of both worlds of OLED materials and quantum dots. IDTechEx also see this as a stepping stone to fully printed light emissive QD displays, which would impact the white OLED with LCD color filter approach deployed by others for TV.
4. Volume production of flexible ICs: A reality
Thin Film Electronics (Thinfilm) has set up one of the first printed electronics factories of its kind at its US headquarters in San Jose, California. This 22,000 sq-ft fab is double the size of the development facility it replaced and is home to the world's first production roll-to-roll (R2R) printed electronics line. Replacing a sheet-fed line based on stainless steel substrates, the roll-to-roll line is designed for an annual capacity of up to 7 billion die.
Also in 2018, PragmatIC announced that the first FlexLogIC™ "fab-in-a-box" has now been installed and commissioned in its facility at Sedgefield, UK. FlexLogIC is a self-contained, fully automated system delivering high throughput manufacturing of ultra-low cost, thin and flexible integrated circuits (FlexICs).
Both companies report that equipment cost is orders of magnitude below that of a contemporary silicon fab. Both organizations will be presenting and exhibiting at the IDTechEx Printed Electronics USA event on November 14-15 in Santa Clara, USA.
5. First Application of Structural Electronics using In-Mold technology in Wearables
Suunto, working with TactoTek, have developed Movesense, a wearable system incorporating a connector based on In-Mold Electronics (IME). The IME process ensures 100% weatherproofing and high durability for the component which is typically integrated into apparel, overcoming limitations with some other electronic systems which can quickly degrade when exposed to different weather and wash cycle conditions.
TactoTek will be exhibiting and presenting at the IDTechEx Printed Electronics USA event on November 14-15 in Santa Clara, USA.
6. Printing in the Electronics Industry: New Applications
There have been many new applications of printing in electronics manufacturing. For example, inkjet printing system supplier Notion Systems have installed several systems that are used in the commercial production of PCBs in 2018. Here, the inkjet printers print the solder mask (a green lacquer) which protects the copper surface and prevents solder shorting between components during assembly. The benefit of using inkjet printing is that it provides a uniform coating where needed, potentially saving on lacquer consumption (the lacquer only needs to be printed where needed) and it simplifies the process of applying the solder mask. One customer is moving fully to inkjet printing for an automotive application in 2018 based on the success of the platform. Notion Systems will be exhibiting at Printed Electronics USA.
In a completely different example, XTPL are targeting their fine resolution printing system for display repairs. Occasionally small defects arise in the manufacture of LCD or OLED displays. On inspection of the display panels, these are identified. XTPL's process, which enables the printing of conductive lines less than 100nm thick, can be used to repair these defects.
These are just some of the highlights of what's happening in the world of printed electronics, as assessed by IDTechEx Research. For full details, read the most comprehensive report on the topic Flexible, Printed and Organic Electronics 2019-2029 which gives detailed ten year forecasts by device type along with assessment of the trends, capabilities and market successes (and failures). See www.idtechex.com/pe for more details.
(Top Image Source: PragmatIC)