The future of electronic displays: flexible, foldable and stretchable

Mike Banach, Technical Director

December 15, 2015

As we come to the end of another year, we thought we’d reflect on what we see as one of the fundamental developments due to hit the electronics industry in a few years’ time. Our focus lies in flexible electronics leading to a future with full colour, ultra-flexible, foldable, and even stretchable displays.

The key to making displays thin and flexible is the organic transistor, and an array of these transistors – which we call a backplane – is able to control a number of different frontplanes. One of the approaches we advocate is to combine the flexible, organic thin film transistor (OTFT) with an organic light emitting diode (OLED), because both technologies are best suited for displays with a tight bend radius. 

The popularity of OLED displays is set to continue

OLEDs are luminescent devices and are comprised of several organic-based layers that are sandwiched between two electrodes. A current flows under an applied bias, and electrons and holes are injected on opposite sides and recombine within the organic layers, emitting light as a result.

When the OLED is manufactured directly on the OTFT backplane you can control the light emission of each pixel which avoids the use of the backlight. This leads to a simple display construction with great viewing angles, high contrast, and an incredible opportunity for real flexibility. 

Even without making OLED displays flexible, they are gaining market share due to their performance in small form factors. Companies such as Samsung and LG have incorporated them into popular mobile products, enabling thinner and more lightweight devices to be brought to consumers.

Plastic electronics paves the way for flexible LCDs and OLEDs

What we shouldn’t underestimate however is the popularity and adaptability of liquid crystal displays (LCDs). LCDs have been the dominant display technology in the market, and now plastic, glass-free LCDs are also on the horizon due to flexible electronics. In contrast to OLED displays, plastic LCDs require a voltage to drive each pixel, and our unique transistor technology caters to either type of frontplane.

The future: who will be king of the flexible screen? 

We’ve recently demonstrated how we can drive both types of frontplanes with our respective partners – OLCDs with Merck, and OLED displays with Chunghwa Picture Tube. In the video below, we show a 125 micron thick, colour display operating at full video-rate (60Hz).

While plastic LCDs can be commercialised sooner on existing manufacturing lines, flexible OLED displays remain an attractive alternative for the future due to the tight bend radius which can be achieved. If analysts are to be believed, the market for flexible OLED will grow eight-fold in the next five years.

FlexEnable is already working with volume display makers to make plastic LCDs a real option in the very short term. We are also developing processes to make flexible OLED displays possible in the near future. If you are planning to use any of these technologies, get in touch and let us know – info@flexenable.com.

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