Updates from Merck's OLED VP - focusing on solution-processable OLED materials

In February 2009, we interviewed Dr. Udo Heider, Merck's OLED Unit VP. Merck is a global pharmaceutical and chemical company based in Germany, working on high performance OLED materials. Dr. Heider was kind enough to do a follow-up interview with us...

Q: Dr. Heider, thanks for taking the time to do this second interview... Back in February you said that within nine months you'll have a solution-processable Green OLED ready. Any updates on that? What about Blue and Red?

Indeed it is with great pleasure for me to report that our development team has really done an excellent job in making progress and delivering results in the area of solution-processed OLED materials. Merck can now report that in a spin coating process, the gap between solution and evaporation processed phosphorescent green materials has been almost completely bridged. Merck is now shifting its focus to the implementation phase: this means working together with world renowned process and display manufacturers to make sure that these materials can now be printed in line with performance and yield requirements. We hope to report on results in this area in the near future. The extensive know-how that has been accumulated during the last couple of months in the areas of Green can now be transferred with confidence to the other primary colors Red and Blue. The key to success is based on combining the learnings and strengths of the Small molecule and Polymer OLED worlds.

Q: Do you think that solution-processable materials are the way forward for larger displays?

We certainly do hope that this creates additional options for our customers. There is of course also the expectation that solution-processed OLED materials will help to expand the scope in applications for OLED in general.

Q: OLEDs for lighting seems to be the hot topic of the past months. Any updates on that front?

Yes, OLED lighting is a topic that is attracting a lot of interest from governments, academia and industry because of its promise for a green, environmentally friendly technology that creates lighting shapes and forms currently unknown to mankind. As a material manufacturer, Merck is keenly interested in understanding the technology and application needs / requirements related to materials and material processing and is very involved on the different continents, working on this with key partners. Merck believes that also here its technology reach in both Small Molecule as well as Polymer OLED materials will be crucial to add value to this important topic.

Q: You are participating in several OLED related projects (such as LILi and NEMO). Can you give us updates on these projects and Merck's work?

These projects, which are under the auspices of German Federal Ministry of Education and Research(BMBF), focus on the two most important aspects for developing OLED as a technical, commercially viable lighting technology. First of all, Nemo is a project being conducted by a consortium of eleven industrial and academic partners with the objective of investigating and developing a wide range of topics related to a four-layer structure of solution-based OLED devices. The role of Merck (which is leading the project consortium) is to develop and test new emitting systems and concepts based on soluble small molecules with a focus on phosphorescent red, green and blue emitting materials. Obviously to drive this forward and create marketable solutions, hole / electron injection, transport materials as well as electrode systems are being researched, evaluated and tested in parallel with respect to their performance.

LILi is a project together with Applied Inc. and the Technical University of Braunschweig. Within the scope of the three-year project, processes directed towards lower cost manufacturing of illumination OLEDs will be developed. Merck is testing and optimizing organic materials towards cost-effective and long-term production process stable large area deposition instate-of-the art manufacturing equipment. Merck is very honored and excited to be an active partner in the development of such a promising new lighting technology and hopes to make a significant contribution, based on its long history in performance chemicals.

Q: When we last talked, you had just bought OLED-T's IP assets and couldn't say much. Can you now share more information about their phosphorescent OLED technology?

Merck purchased the OLED-T IP because of the unique material concept idea. Since Merck is working on a consistent Small Molecule OLED product and roadmap portfolio, these OLED-T ideas are an integral part of our overall Merck IP and material know-how tool box. Please note that OLED-T IP was not only limited to phosphorescent technology but also has a substantial base in electron injection and transport materials.

Q: Small OLEDs are growing quickly - in the past year we've seen dozens of products (from Samsung, LG, Google, Microsoft and others) that utilize small OLEDs. Will that trend continue? When do you think we'll start to see medium and large OLED displays?

HTC IncredibleHTC Incredible photoAlthough as a material supplier, I am not the most qualified person to answer this question, it is likely that small displays indeed currently provide the best platform to launch OLED as a competitive technology. Therefore, the trend toward small size OLEDs can be expected to continue. Of course, as demonstrated by different manufacturers at different Flat Panel Display Shows around the world, the larger the OLED display, the more stunning the viewing impact and inherent OLED properties are on the observer. Therefore, if the progress in small size OLED supports the economic underpinning, then, as can be read in the announcements by different manufacturers, large OLED displays could indeed become a reality within a couple of years.

Q: Who do you consider to be the top OLED material makers, beside Merck?

It is not up to me to comment on that. My job focuses on establishing and improving the infrastructure, technology capability and resources in order for Merck to be a relevant market player that supplies OLED materials to the industry in line with the required cost performance. I would like to emphasize that it is not only important to have the right material (technology and IP) but also to be able to supply these materials in the relevant quantities, at the correct purity level and cost, as well in full compliance with all regulations governing environment standards and toxicity, areas in which Merck has a great deal of experience and expertise. In short, Merck considers all aspects of the overall supply chain as the key to long-term success.

Q: You were once quite pessimistic about OLED TVs (your CEO said it'll take 30 years). Is this still the common view at Merck?

LGE 15EL9500As stated also in the previous interview, Merck is a material supplier. Exactly how the OLED device market will develop will be up to the device manufacturers and market acceptance. In addition, as history has taught us time and again, it takes considerable time for any new technology to replace an incumbent one. Certainly we can not expect the LCD industry to give up without a fight. New technologies and features will come onto the market in the LCD field as well. So this is not the time to take any thing for granted, which is why we are aiming to stay ahead of the curve.

Dr. Heider - thanks again for this second interview. We hope to keep hearing good news from Merck!

Posted: May 05,2010 by Ron Mertens