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Posted on February 12, 2008 by  & 

IDTechEx Review: Flexible Displays Conference Phoenix Jan 21-24 Part 1

The Seventh Annual Flexible Electronics and Displays (formerly known as Flexible Displays) Conference and Exhibit was sponsored by the United States Display Consortium (USDC). The USDC is an industry-led public/private partnership providing a common platform for flexible electronics and display manufacturers, developers, integrators and the supplier base. USDC's primary mission is to fund supply-chain projects and share the results with member companies. Over 70 papers were presented. A short course on Printed Electronics was given, which sold out for the second year in a row. This course was taught by the Printed Electronics group at Motorola, led by Dr. Daniel Gamota, and Prof. Ghassan Jabbour of Arizona State University.
Over the last year, the USDC has shown increased interest in printed electronics. Early in 2007 they announced that their board of directors unanimously approved an initiative focused on the emerging "flexible, printed, and organic electronics" (FPO) market. They claim that this initiative will be the first of its kind in the U.S. The USDC has also recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Organic Electronics Association (OE-A) with the target "to jointly establish OE-A N.A. as a single North American printed and organic electronics industry association". This year, the word Electronics was inserted in the conference name, in keeping with this broadened scope.
Judging by this conference, interest in flexible displays is certainly increasing. As might be expected from a conference sponsored by a consortium, many of the presentations were given by recipients of USDC funding. The exception to this were the large number (5) of presentations from the Industrial Technology Research Institute (ITRI) of Taiwan.
Although the concept of flexible displays may conjure up notions of roll to roll manufacturing, and perhaps even printing processes, for the most part, flexible display technology has not yet achieved this level. Although there were many talks (just over 20%) about roll to roll processes, the vast majority of the actual displays shown were produced in batch mode, primarily using vacuum processes. Much of the work that was described on roll to roll processing was done at the Center for Advanced Microelectronics Manufacturing at Binghamton University, whose director was co-chair of the academic track of the conference.
Most of the flexible displays that were discussed used batch processing with relatively conventional semiconductor vacuum fabrication "tools". Often, the first step was to attach a flexible plastic substrate to a rigid flat surface, such as a silicon wafer or glass. The combination could then be processed using conventional semiconductor processing. Following the processing, the flexible plastic substrate can be removed from the carrier. The most widely used bonding/debonding processes are EPLaR (Electronics on Plastic by Laser Release) developed by Philips Research, and SUFTLA (Surface-Free Technology by Laser Ablation/Annealing) developed by Seiko-Epson.
But no matter what the process, it was gratifying to see that some flexible displays are in or nearing production. Clearly the leader in front plane technology is E-ink. Founded in 1997, they are certainly one of the oldest and most well established flexible display technology providers. When one analyst was asked if any companies had "done it right", he cited E-ink as a prime example. Several other analysts followed suit and agreed. More importantly, there are currently over 8 Electronic Readers now in production using E-ink's VizplexTM technology. Additionally, there are various other products, including POP advertising displays, watches, memory sticks, cell phones, and remote controls in production using this technology. Dr. Michael McCreary, VP of Research and Advanced Development at E-Ink Corporation also gave a hint of things to come with some video technology currently in the research phase. A color display showed video from a segment of cars. Although the color quality was poor, it was indeed a color display, and demonstrated two important things - E-ink technology can achieve color, and video rate display. In a more mundane example, an E-ink display was combined with a touch pad, taking the "electronic paper" analogy a step further. Now there is an electronic paper display that you can write on, as well as view. As a further testament to the dominance of E-ink's technology, 6 other talks used E-ink for their front planes.
The talk by Dr. Edzer Huitema, CTO of Polymer Vision was also noteworthy. Polymer Vision is currently very close to producing an actual rollable display. A cellular phone using the Readius technology is scheduled to be available (from Telecom Italia) the middle of this year. Dr. Huitema had a working prototype of the reader. The video shown below demonstrates the display changing and the display being "unwrapped". This product will most likely be the first consumer product with a rollable display. This bistable 5 inch display is only 0.1 mm thick, and can display 16 gray levels. Other attendees told me that it could be easily seen in sunlight, which with the exception of one day where it rained, was plentiful in Phoenix during the event.
Source: Polymer Vision External Link
Read the second part of this review here.

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Posted on: February 12, 2008

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