OLED is an emerging display technology that enables beautiful and efficient displays and lighting panels. OLEDs are already being used in many mobile devices and TVs, and the next generation of these panels will be flexible and bendable.
Different kinds of flexibility
When we talk about flexible OLEDs, it's important to understand what that means exactly. A flexible OLED is based on a flexible substrate which can be either plastic, metal or flexible glass. The plastic and metal panels will be light, thin and very durable - in fact they will be virtually shatter-proof.
The first range of devices that use flexible OLED displays are not really flexible from the user perspective. The device maker bends the displays, or curves it - but the final user is not able to actually bend the device. Besides the beautiful designs, a flexible OLED has several advantages especially in mobile devices - the displays are lighter, thinner and more durable compared to glass based displays.
Second generation flexible OLED devices may indeed be flexible to the final user. Finally, when the technology is ready, we may see OLED panels that you can fold, bend or stretch. This may create all sorts of exciting designs that will enable large displays to be placed in a mobile device and only be opened when required.
Flexible OLED products
In October 2013, following many years of development and prototype demonstrations, both Samsung and LG Display finally started producing flexible AMOLED displays on plastic (polyimide) substrates. Both Korean companies are now mass producing such displays, which are being used in mobile phones and wearable devices - such as the Galaxy S7 Edge (shown below), the LG G Flex 2 and Apple's Watch.
Samsung Display is currently producing flexible OLEDs in two production lines, the 5.5-Gen A2 and the and the newer A3 6-Gen A3. Samsung is producing around 9 million flexible OLEDs per month - to satisfy demand for its mobile phones and wearables - and Samsung is working on expanding its capacity as demand soars and as Apple ordered around 100 million flexible OLED panels for its future iPhones.
LG Display currently produces plastic-based OLEDs in its Gen-4.5 fab, and is investing $900 million to build new production lines as it also aims to become a major flexible AMOLED producer.
The latest flexible OLED news:
Semiconductor Energy Laboratory (SEL) demonstrated two new OLED display prototypes, both based on the company's proprietary CAAC-IGZO (c-axis aligned crystalline In-Ga-Zn-O) backplane material.
First up is the world's smallest 8K display, a 8.3" OLED (1058 PPI) with a resolution of 7680x4320. The panel is based on a white OLED with color filter architecture.
According to reports from China, last week BOE started to construct its 3rd 6-Gen flexible AMOLED production line in Chongqing's Liangjiang district (the B12 line). The investment in the new fab will total 46.5 billion Yuan, or about $7.3 billion USD.
The B12 line will have a capacity of 48,000 monthly substrates - which will bring BOE's total flexible OLED capacity to 144,000 monthly substrates (second only to Samsung).
So first up is JOLED's first OLED TV panel. The 55" 4K (3840x2160, 80 PPI) panel offers a 120Hz refresh rate and a color gamut of 100% DCI (135% sRGB) and is printed on JOLED's Transparent Amorphous Oxide Semiconductor (TAOS) backplane.
DSCC says that flexible OLED fab utilization rates continue to increase, while rigid OLED utilization rate are falling. Here are DSCC estimates (which include its forecast for the seasonally weak December 2018).
Everdisplay's 6-Gen flexible OLED line in Shanghai is progressing, trial production to begin in January 2019
In 2016 China-based Everdisplay (EDO) started to construct a 6-Gen flexible AMOLED fab in Shanghai. In August 2017 EDO said that it finished the building's main steel frame roof, and in July 2018 EDO started to install equipment.
Everdisplay now announces that the new production line has been successfully lit for the first time. It's not exactly clear what the company means by that, but progress seems to be going well and EDO says that trial panel production will begin in January 2019, as planned.
The Fraunhofer FEP institute, the Holst Center and other partners have developed a 15-meter long OLED lighting panel, the longer OLED device ever (beating their own 2017 record of a 10-meter OLED). This work was done as part of the Lyteus, the EU's €14 million initiative within PI-SCALE.
The partners in this project say that this is the first OLED produced using a new unique roll-to-roll (R2R) process that combines the performance of an evaporated OLED stack with solution processing of auxiliary layers.
In March 2018 OLEDWorks launched its first flexible OLED panels, branded as BendOLEDs. The company now announced that the panels are now commercially available - and rebranded as LumiCurve Wave, which is the first panel in OLEDWorks LumiCurve product family.
The LumiCurve Wave is produced on Corning's 0.1mm thin Willow Glass flexible glass substrate. OLEDWorks says that the Wave panels are extremely thin and light and deliver the superb light quality and excellent color rendering that is uniquely achievable with OLED.
Researchers from the University of California Berkley developed a new flexible and lightweight blood oxygen sensor that can map oxygen levels over large area. The sensor uses an array of red and near-infrared OLEDs, together with organic photo-diodes, printed on a flexible substrate.
The research was supported by Cambridge Display Technology, which means that these red and near-infrared printed OLEDs use polymer emitters (PLEDs).
As expected, Samsung unveiled its upcoming foldable smartphone yesterday. The rumors were correct, and Samsung's first foldable device will have two screens - a large 7.3" foldable AMOLED that folds inside, and a smaller OLED that is used when the phone is closed. Samsung brands the display as the Samsung Infinity Flex Display.
The inner foldable display is a 7.3" AMOLED with a resolution of 1532x2152 (361 PPI). The outer display is a 4.5" 840x1960 AMOLED. The whole device seems to be quite thick and about double the depth compared to a standard smartphone.
Samsung's annual US developer conference is starting today, and rumors suggest that the company will unveil its first foldable device (the Galaxy F?) during the event. Samsung Mobile's Facebook page profile image was changed today to the one you see below - which surely suggests something foldable:
Hopefully we'll know more soon. For a few months now we hear that Samsung foldable device launch will take place in November, and according to the latest estimates the device will sport a 7.3" OLED display that folds inside. The device will also sport an external, smaller AMOLED.