A beginner’s guide to flexible displays

Paul Cain, Strategy Director

July 11, 2016

A lot of scientific zest and engineering effort has gone into developing full-colour, video-rate flexible displays in the past few years. Truly flexible displays that can fold and roll may still be only available as concepts or prototypes, but curved and conformable displays are already a real option for product designers.

Unlike glass-based displays, flexible displays are built onto non-glass substrate which makes them an attractive alternative for many applications as they are naturally lighter, thinner and more robust.

In this article, we take a look at some of the most popular flexible display technologies available today or coming soon.

EPD

popSLATE EPD screen
Plastic Logic's EPD display features in popSLATE's accessory for iPhone providing a second screen platform

Many e-readers are based on the electrophoretic display (EPD) – a daylight-readable, very low-power display technology. The EPD looks like ‘ink on paper’ due to the moveable pigments used in the pixels that reflect (or absorb) daylight, without the need for any backlights. Typically, EPDs have been produced using a glass substrates containing transistors, making them brittle.The development of flexible EPDs using FlexEnable’s organic transistor technology platform has meant companies such as Plastic Logic Germany can industrialise more rugged, light-weight and conformable EPDs for a range of applications where low-power, daylight readability are key attributes.

 

 

Flexible OLED


LG flexible mobileLG G Flex 2 has a curved OLED screen

Flexible Organic light emitting diode (OLED) displays arenow gaining ground in the displays market, with Samsung and then LG Display leading the way in production. These displays combine the ultra-thin OLED frontplane with an inorganic backplane technology, such as LTPS (Low Temperature Polysilicon). These displays offer some flexibility, which is limited by the inorganic ('ceramic-like') materials used in the LTPS backplane, which can crack if bent too far. Companies are working on alternatives that will be more flexible, as well as simpler to manufacture. For example, engineers at FlexEnable have been able to combine the OLED frontplane with an organic thin film transistor (OTFT) array forming the backplane – enabling a truly flexible OLED display module.

The potential applications for flexible OLED displays are far reaching, and this new market is set to explode with IDTechEx analysts predicting that the OLED market will grow to $57bn in 2026. This isn’t surprising given that consumers will be seeing this form of display in wearables, mobiles and even television panels.

OLCD

First OLCD smartwatch prototype
FlexEnable has demonstrated the world's first conformable OLCD

We are all aware of LCD – the most common display technology used today by far. There’s a more recent variant called organic liquid crystal display (OLCD) that is set to bring a new level of design freedom for electronics products. By removing the glass substrate and replacing it with plastic, and optimising the assembly process around low-temperature, we have developed the world’s first flexible LCD. We envisage a world where almost all surfaces can be activated – from wearables to car dashboards and digital signage and fashion.

We see this new wave of displays as an exciting era for organic electronics, but also for the designers and manufacturers of display panels. With this technology the possibilities of where to integrate colour, video-rate displays seem limitless. If you have any thoughts on these types of displays, or a new application area, please get in touch – displays@flexenable.com.

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