Taking flexible displays from lab to fab

Paul Cain, Strategy Director

August 22, 2016

Taking new technologies from lab to fab is never easy. Producing a flexible display requires a complex set of processes where throughput, yield, reliability and supply chain are all critical to a successful scale-up into mass production.

At FlexEnable we are well aware of the challenges of technology transfer as we speak from experience. Our flexible electronics technology is the only organic thin-film transistor (OTFT) technology used in display production and  products today - in the form of e-paper displays (EPD) manufactured by Plastic Logic Germany, where millions of identical OTFTs are manufactured on each display. We understand how much research and know-how it takes to go from making a few TFTs on a small chip to manufacturing millions over large areas.

Manufacturing process for flexible displays

Transforming how electronics are integrated into products in the FlexEnable fabOver the last couple of years we have further developed the underlying technology platform to be compatible with other display types such as LCD and OLED. Its high electrical performance means that full colour, video rate displays can be made flexible and perform equally well or even better than amorphous silicon glass-based displays. Moreover, our processes are compatible with existing flat panel display (FPD) lines meaning that the existing facilities can be adapted for the manufacture of flexible displays.

The manufacturing advantages of our OTFT technology are also not to be ignored. While there are many challenges to manufacturing high resolution, fine-feature electronics onto large area flexible sheets, we have overcome these by creating a low temperature process. A maximum processing temperature below 100°C allows for the use of lower cost plastic substrates (e.g. PET) and minimises distortion (improve yield), whilst enabling a low cost, high yield method of handling flexible substrates. Our mount-demount process uses a conventional adhesive technology to attach low cost plastic films to glass before beginning the low temperature organic transistor process to manufacture transistor circuits. This allows us to create a very simple and efficient demount process to release the flexible device from the glass, which is itself re-used as a carrier many times.

Scaling up flexible display technology

Manufacturing plant at DresdenOur current focus is on scaling up this OTFT technology for the manufacture of organic liquid crystal displays (OLCD). We call them ‘organic’ because we use organic transistors instead of amorphous silicon ones. These transistors are fundamentally flexible and when deposited on thin plastic film, the whole backplane becomes flexible. Since LCD is the most widely used display technology today, the ability to make plastic LCDs that can bend can be a game-changer for consumer electronics.

FlexEnable’s OLCD technology can replace glass-based displays in mainstream applications, while also overcoming form factor constraints. OLCDs can be conformed to various surfaces improving the comfort, safety and user experience in many applications including wearables, mobile devices, car interiors, digital signage and other consumer electronics. 

Right now we are working to bring this new generation of displays to mass production with partners is Asia. We are also collaborating with brand companies to enable the next generation of products that use flexible displays.

If you are working on a product that requires a flexible display, please get in touch with us at displays@flexenable.com.

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