The manufacturing system for OLED displays is currently not exactly optimal, involving vast factories, convoluted machinery, and a perfectly sans dust environment. But what if we could just 3D print an OLED panel?
That's what researchers at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities have created: the world's first bendable, completely 3D printed OLED screen. Sure it's just 1.5 inches, and 64 pixels in total, but it's a start. Brought to our attention by Hardware Info, this is the kind of advancement that could easily bring cheaper, more efficient production to the world of TV's and gaming monitors, as well as laptop and phone screens.
The research is published in the companion reviewed Science Advances journal, where the abstract outlines more intricacies of the screen's 'hybrid design.'
"The electrodes, interconnects, insulation, and encapsulation are all extrusion-printed, while the active layers are spray-printed. Spray printing leads to improved layer uniformity via suppression of directional mass transport in the printed droplets.
"By exploiting the viscoelastic oxide surface of the printed cathode droplets, a mechanical reconfiguration process is achieved to increase the contact area of the polymer-metal junctions. The uniform cathode array is intimately interfaced with the top interconnects."
To achieve this incredible feat, the team utilized a custom tabletop 3D printer, which "was custom built and costs about the same as a Tesla Model S," says the study's senior author Michael McAlpine, a University of Minnesota Kuhrmeyer Family Chair Professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering.
According to The Engineer, previous attempts had been made to 3D print OLED displays, but the crucial uniformity of light emitting layers was a massive obstacle for the team. Others had the option to print a few components, but remained reliant on the current standards of spin-coating or thermal evaporation to finish the displays off.
Ruitao Su, another of the study's authors and postdoctoral researcher at MIT, talked up the flexibility of the display. They note that it was able to keep "a relatively stable emission over the 2,000 bending cycles, suggesting that completely 3D printed OLEDs can potentially be utilized for important applications in soft electronics and wearable devices."