OLED (Organic Light Emitting Diodes) are light emitting panels made from organic (carbon based) materials that emit light when electricity is applied. OLED are used today to make beautiful and efficient displays and large, efficient and beautiful lighting panels.
An OLED 'light bulb' is a thin film of material that emits light. OLED is the only technology that can create large "area" lighting panels (as opposed to point or line lighting enabled by LEDs and fluorescent bulbs). OLEDs can be used to make flexible and transparent panels, and can also be color-tunable. OLEDs emit beautiful soft diffused light - in fact OLEDs lighting is the closest light source to natural light (with the exception of the old incandescent lamps).
The OLED lighting market
OLED is an amazing technology for lighting - it creates beautiful, efficient and healthy light sources. OLED lighting has great promise but unfortunately the high price of production is a challenge that no one has managed to overcome and OLED lighting remains a small niche industry as of 2019.
In the early years, several large lighting makers (including GE, Philips, OSRAM, Panasonic, NEC and others) had active OLED lighting programs, but slowly almost all of these companies dropped out of the market - for various reasons - but the main one being that the large investments in large scale production are not certified to lead to market adoption and the competition with LED lighting is extremely difficult.
There are several companies that still develop and produce OLED lighting panels, but the production volume is still small and most makers target niche markets such as the automotive, health and premium designer markets. Some makers are also offering OLED lamps - click here for our OLED lamp listings.
Konica Minolta built the world's most advanced OLED fab - a Roll-to-Roll flexible OLED lighting fab - that has a capacity to produce a million flexible and color-tunable OLED panels each month. The Japanese company recently announced that it shipped 15,000 flexible OLEDs to a Japanese Tulips Festival - by far the largest OLED installation to date, but real mass production at that fab is yet to be achieved as Konica Minolta still faces technical challenges and constant reorganization.
The latest OLED lighting news:
The UK innovation agency (Innovate UK) has launched a new 30-month project called UltraWELD, which aims to improve airtight bonding in OLED lighting for aerospace and defense applications. The project partners will develop photonic-based processes for highly dissimilar material joining.
Current dissimilar materials joining is mainly done using adhesive bonding - a highly flexible and low cost process, but one that cannot provide truly hermetic bonds, which reduces the performance of the panels and can lead to optical damage.
Researchers from Penn State University have demonstrated 3D OLED lighting devices, inspired by the Japanese Kirigami art of paper cutting the folding.
The researchers started with flexible OLED lighting devices produced on thin plastics, which they then cut and folded to create lighting-emitting 3D structures.
In 2016 the EU launched the PI-SCALE project, which established a European-wide roll-to-roll flexible OLED lighting pilot production line, with an aim to enable companies of all sizes to quickly and cost effectively test and scale up their flexible OLED lighting concepts.
Now the EU has launched a €14 million initiative within PI-SCALE called LYTEUS, which provides the expertise and capability required to progress an OLED lighting concept from an idea and into a commercialized product. Lyteus helps companies with sheet-to-sheet and roll-to-roll prototyping of flexible OLEDs, technology transfer, device encapsulation and more. At launch Lyteus serves four customers: Audi, Rehau, Emde and Pilkington, to develop flexible OLED lighting products in the automotive, aeronautics and designer luminaires sectors.
Researchers from Taiwan's National Tsing Hua University (NTHU) and lighting expert Prof. George C. Brainard (one of the principle investigators of the SSL program for the International Space Station) have teamed up for a public call for the adoption of healthier lights.
The researchers aim to collaboration to accelerate the development of healthier lights, which are connected to a range of health problems, including breast and prostate cancers. NTHU's blue-light free candle-light OLEDs may prove to be a good solution to night time lighting.
The US Department of Energy (DoE) announced a new $15 million funding drive for innovative early solid-state-lighting (SSL) research. With this new funding round, the DoE aims to accelerate the development of high-quality LED and OLED products.
The new funding round includes four areas: core LED, OLED and cross-cutting lighting technology research, prototype and proof-of-concept development of LEDs and OLEDs, advanced fabrication R&D and innovative lighting in a limited mock field application. In total, the DoE will fund about 10-15 cost-sharing projects from industry, academia, and national laboratories.
Taiwan's ITRI institute says that recent advances in OLED materials and production methods has enabled it to greatly reduce OLED lighting production costs. Recent technical achievements at ITRI include a new flexible substrate transfer, R2R production process integration, and soft light source system design.
In 2016 ITRI constructed a pilot roll-to-roll production line for flexible OLEDs. ITRI now says that these technical achievements will enable it to increase the production line capacity for 50,000 monthly panels. ITRI also developed a new flexible OLED that weighs only 10.7 grams and is less than 0.5 mm thick.
OTI Lumioncs launches its new Aerelight for print technology, aiming to embed flexible OLED lighting in print media
OTI Lumionics launched a new technology it calls Aerelight for Print technology, which uses paper-thin flexible OLED panels to light elements in print media.
OTI says that in order to enable low-cost production of flexible OLEDs, it designed its own manufacturing technology and advanced materials. This includes the company's own proprietary FlexTorr encapsulation technology.
One of our readers reported that during the Light + Building trade show earlier this month, an OSRAM official said that OSRAM is pulling out of the OLED lighting market, and the company will stop all OLED R&D immediately.
This is very unfortunate news. OSRAM is the supplier of OLED Lighting panels to Audi and BMW, and according to the OSRAM official the company will continue to provide product support for both automakers until 2020.
In September 2017, Merck, OLEDWorks, OPVIUS and Kolon launched a new textile-based OLED lighting and OPV installation (called "Do we dream under the same sky") at the first Seoul Biennale of Architecture and Urbanism.
Merck now brought the same installation to Frankfurt during the Light + Building 2018, and the company also gave us more details about this interesting installation.
BASF's Coatings division announced that OLEDWorks uses the company's flexible barrier solutions in its Bright 3 family of OLED panels (both flexible and rigid). OLEDWorks uses BASF materials as planarization layer to enable highly reliable thin-film encapsulation.