While Asian firms currently dominate the overall display screen market, Europe is now a leader in the production of flexible electronic displays segment, thanks to a project that brought together manufacturers such as Philips, Thales and Nokia with the continent’s leading academic researchers.
There are only four factories in the world capable of producing flexible displays. The European consortium developing the flexible electronic displays has already introduced the technologies into factories in the UK, Germany, France and Taiwan.Flexible displays, a long sought-after innovation, can be shaped to fit curved surfaces. They can even be flexed and rolled up like a magazine. The key is to replace the usual glass display backing with plastic.
Partners in FlexiDis have commercialised three new processes for doing just that.
“You could introduce a flexible display into the market to battle against the existing flat panel display on glass and all of its applications,” says Dr Eliav Haskal, of Philips Research, which is coordinating the project. “Alternatively you could introduce a flexible display into a market which doesn’t yet exist because conventional display technologies cannot provide the solution. This second route is the one that’s going to be first on the market.”
Pioneering this new approach is Polymer Vision, a spin-off from Philips. In cooperation with telecom Italia Mobile the company is producing a device called Readius, which is about the size of a mobile phone and has an ‘e-paper’ display that unrolls to reveal a five-inch screen.
Readius can be used for e-books and also for emails. It is being produced in a factory in Southampton. This will be the world’s first product to use a flexible active matrix display.
Another company, Plastic Logic, is setting up a factory in Dresden to produce more than a million flexible displays every year. Plastic Logic was spun out of Cambridge University in 2000 as a commercial entity.
“They have focused on making a large A4-sized flexible e-reader device less than half a millimetre thick, which you can use as a robust replacement for reading information on a lap-top,” says Dr Haskal.
Thales Avionics LCD, near Grenoble, runs the only factory in Europe making displays based on liquid crystal devices (LCDs), mainly for the demanding avionics sector. The company has been running trials with a FlexiDis technology called EPLaR, in which plastic displays are manufactured on glass sheets allowing them to be made in factories set up for rigid LCD panels.
“Thales Avionics LCD will work further with this technology because it gives them a leg-up on the competition,” says Dr Haskal. “They’re going to keep working on niche products which have high added values so that they don’t need the economies of scale.”
In due course the Thales factory will be able to produce full-colour displays based on organic light-emitting diodes (OLEDs).
Thales is also going to take part in a new EU-funded research project called Amazoled, which is being set up to advance the technology further using OLEDs manufactured in the company’s factory.
Europe has no factories capable of producing the large LCD panels being manufactured in Asia and it does not make any sense to try and compete. So some of the technologies developed by the FlexiDis team have been licensed to Prime View International, a Taiwanese company that will produce flexible displays for the mass consumer market.
So far there is little commercial competition either from Asia or the USA. The American government has invested $43.7 million in a five-year project to develop flexible displays for use by the US army, to the extent of taking over a former Motorola factory in Arizona. The work will start with a focus on military applications.
“They’ve done a nice job but realistically that isn’t a production facility but rather a really big R&D facility,” says Dr Haskal.
The market for flexible displays is estimated to run to hundreds of millions of euros over the next five years and there is no shortage of ideas for new products.
Apart from e-readers – and the Chinese authorities are discussing the use of such devices on a large scale in schools – other early applications are likely to include ‘point of purchase’ signs on shelves or clothing racks in shopping outlets. French retailer Carrefour is already using glass LCD displays for price indicators but these have been found to be vulnerable to damage from shopping trolleys.
Another use will be in the smart card market. Electronic tickets used on public transport systems could incorporate a flexible display that shows the remaining value on the card. Credit cards could have a display that shows a one-time code to be used to authenticate secure transactions.
"Europe can succeed in this market when it plays to its strengths," says Dr Haskal.
“We’re not good at economy of scale, high-investment factories and enormous production efforts,” he says. “We’re good at design, at creating novel applications and putting a display in a place that we never thought of before - a rollable display, an e-reader display with new functionality or a curved display in the sleeve of a jacket. One of our partners in FlexiDis has put a display in a snowboard. That’s pretty niche, if you ask me. Each one of these new ideas can generate a business.”
FlexiDis received funding from the EU's Sixth Framework Programme for research.
Ahmed ElAmin | alfa
Electromagnetic water cloak eliminates drag and wake
12.12.2017 | Duke University
Two holograms in one surface
12.12.2017 | California Institute of Technology
MPQ scientists achieve long storage times for photonic quantum bits which break the lower bound for direct teleportation in a global quantum network.
Concerning the development of quantum memories for the realization of global quantum networks, scientists of the Quantum Dynamics Division led by Professor...
Researchers have developed a water cloaking concept based on electromagnetic forces that could eliminate an object's wake, greatly reducing its drag while...
Tiny pores at a cell's entryway act as miniature bouncers, letting in some electrically charged atoms--ions--but blocking others. Operating as exquisitely sensitive filters, these "ion channels" play a critical role in biological functions such as muscle contraction and the firing of brain cells.
To rapidly transport the right ions through the cell membrane, the tiny channels rely on a complex interplay between the ions and surrounding molecules,...
The miniaturization of the current technology of storage media is hindered by fundamental limits of quantum mechanics. A new approach consists in using so-called spin-crossover molecules as the smallest possible storage unit. Similar to normal hard drives, these special molecules can save information via their magnetic state. A research team from Kiel University has now managed to successfully place a new class of spin-crossover molecules onto a surface and to improve the molecule’s storage capacity. The storage density of conventional hard drives could therefore theoretically be increased by more than one hundred fold. The study has been published in the scientific journal Nano Letters.
Over the past few years, the building blocks of storage media have gotten ever smaller. But further miniaturization of the current technology is hindered by...
With innovative experiments, researchers at the Helmholtz-Zentrums Geesthacht and the Technical University Hamburg unravel why tiny metallic structures are extremely strong
Light-weight and simultaneously strong – porous metallic nanomaterials promise interesting applications as, for instance, for future aeroplanes with enhanced...
11.12.2017 | Event News
08.12.2017 | Event News
07.12.2017 | Event News
13.12.2017 | Health and Medicine
13.12.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
13.12.2017 | Life Sciences