Sustainable manufacturing for displays

Paul Cain, Strategy Director

November 23, 2021

As the dust settles on COP 26, the UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, we’re left with a staggering challenge ahead of us. While there are changes many of us can make on an individual level, from recycling to switching off lights and powering down PCs, organizations that manufacture products on a much larger scale are faced with a sustainability mission for potentially decades to come.

No single firm can ignore these ambitious global policies, but where to start? Whether the products we individually buy and use are manufactured in our own country or thousands of miles away, they both have an impact that needs to be reduced as part of reaching a sustainable state.

At FlexEnable, we’re addressing climate change concerns in the context of display manufacturing. During years of research and development into creating the most efficient and high-performing organic electronics, we discovered that our unique approach not only advances flexible displays and flexible active optical films, but also reduces the environmental impact compared to today’s glass-based display production.

Reducing manufacturing energy consumption

At the core of our business is our disruptive technology – organic electronics processes and materials that enable displays and optical films to be manufactured on flexible films and wrapped around almost any shaped surface. Take organic LCDs – flexible LCDs that use organic transistors instead of silicon, allowing the manufacturing process temperatures to be drastically reduced. Organic transistors can be manufactured in existing display factories without exceeding 100°C, whilst avoiding several other energy intensive processes. Furthermore, the entire process for manufacturing Organic LCDs (OLCDs) is undertaken without exceeding 100°C, significantly reducing the energy footprint in manufacturing when compared to that of glass displays with silicon transistors that require temperatures of 300°C-500°C during manufacture. Removing such energy-intensive processes and reducing the thermal load on the facility through low temperature manufacturing reduces the overall energy used in production by up to 25% compared to glass-based LCDs.

Transforming how electronics are integrated into products in the FlexEnable fabReusing existing factories

From a manufacturing point of view, OLCDs are designed to be manufactured in existing factories originally built to make glass displays. By utilising fabs in this manner, not only can we prolong the economic life of existing installations, but we’re able to more rapidly scale volume production of our highly disruptive flexible electronics technology for flexible displays and LC optics.

Recycle

It’s the low manufacturing temperatures of organic electronics that allow a wide range of plastic films to be used as a substrate material instead of glass. A common choice is TAC (Tri acetyl cellulose) – a widely available bioplastic film made of a cellulose derived from the same raw material as paper, and similarly recyclable. By using TAC film in place of glass we can save further energy in the overall production process: global display production today consumes around 2000 tonnes of glass every day.

With today’s global display capacity at over 300 million m2 per year, a single display factory making glass LCDs can consume energy in the range of 100 megawatts. This is the equivalent of a small power station – so it’s essential that as an industry, we all start to adopt measures to make production more sustainable without stifling innovation.

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