A newly launched, EUR11.2-million European project aims to help bring flexible OLEDs to market within six years. The Flex-o-Fab project, coordinated by Holst Centre, will create a pilot-scale manufacturing chain for flexible OLEDs, and use it to develop reliable fabrication / production processes. Funded through the EU's 7th Framework Program, the project will strengthen Europe's leading position in the lighting industry by making flexible OLEDs a commercial reality.
Organic light-emitting diodes (OLEDs) are a revolutionary new light source. Emitting light efficiently over a large area and in a wide range of attractive colors, they open up a world of new lighting possibilities. The first OLED products - rigid glass tiles- are already on the market. However, OLEDs also offer the exciting possibility of being produced on plastic films / foils to create flexible light sources. Flexible OLEDs would be more robust and could be produced at even lower cost than glass-based OLEDs. Moreover, they could be embedded into all kinds of everyday objects.
Flexible OLEDs have been successfully demonstrated on the laboratory scale by many groups. Now the Flex-o-Fab project aims to take flexible OLEDs from lab to fab by developing reliable processes for manufacturing OLEDs on plastic foils. To do this, the project will set up a modular yet integrated pilot production line and associated manufacturing chain.
Flex-o-Fab will draw on technologies and expertise already used to produce glass-based OLEDs and flexible displays. It will look to migrate existing sheet-to-sheet processes to roll-to-roll (R2R) production to further reduce costs and enable high-volume production. Where manufacturing processes don't already exist, the project will develop new solutions that are compatible with R2R production.
"This is an industry-led project that brings together companies and institutes with strong backgrounds in organic electronics from across Europe. They are all leaders in their respective fields whose knowledge and expertise complements each other perfectly - and we are keen to hear from other potential partners who can add to the mix," said Project Manager Flora Li of Holst Centre/TNO.
One of the key challenges in moving from glass-based to flexible devices is ensuring the sensitive OLED materials are well protected from the environment. Here the project will use a multilayer barrier technology developed by Holst Centre that has been shown to outperform all other available barriers, scaling it up for R2R pilot production (by Roth & Rau and Holst Centre).
A number of novel anode technologies will also be developed (by Epigem, EPFL, SPGPrints, TUT, Orbotech and Holst Centre). These need to be highly transparent with low resistivity, reliable, robust and scalable for R2R production on foil substrates. Other challenges include developing suitable and possibly functionalized polymer foils (by DTF) for R2R flexible OLED production; robust inspection and quality control technologies (by Orbotech) for high-yield manufacturing; reliable handling methods for processing on polymer foil substrates (by Henkel, Holst Centre, CSEM and Philips) and high-performance flexible OLED stack on foil (by Philips).
Flex-o-Fab aims to have a proof-of-concept pilot line operational by September 2015. Although the project focuses on OLED lighting, its results could also be applied to other emerging flexible electronics applications, such as organic photovoltaic (OPV) solar cells, flexible displays and smart food packaging. To further speed industrialization, the project aims to develop a universal substrate foil that could be used for both OLED and OPV applications, bringing new market opportunities for commercial partners.
Flex-o-Fab consortium members (as of January 30, 2013):
- Holst Centre / TNO (Project coordinator) [Netherlands]
- Philips Research [Netherlands, Germany]
- Philips Technologie GmbH [Germany]
- Orbotech Ltd. [Israel]
- Institute of Microengineering,