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Flexible Displays Poised for Growth

Photonics Spectra
Oct 2006
Anne L. Fischer

Flexible displays are expected to take off by 2009 and to reach revenues of nearly $2 billion by 2015, according to a report recently released by DisplaySearch of Austin, Texas. Barry Young, senior vice president and author of the report, forecasts that flexible active matrix backplanes produced using ink-jet printing will become competitive with glass-based thin-film transistors. The availability of low-cost backplanes and roll-to-roll manufacturing will play an important role in promoting this industry, he said.

The 370-page Flexible Displays Report includes details on the technologies, markets and applications for flexible displays, and on the challenges they face. Electronic ink is now the most popular technology because, Young states, it is the one that is ready. Electronic ink is bistable, so once an image is on the screen, it stays there until it is changed. It also boasts thin form factor, light weight, durability and low cost. The drawbacks include lack of color, slow response time and the need for an external light source when used in a dark environment. It’s reflective, he notes, “so it’s only going to be as bright as the environment you put it in.”

Electronic ink is used in smart cards, watches, electronic books, electronic shelf labels and, most recently, in a Motorola mobile phone. Young indicates that E-Ink of Cambridge, Mass., Gyricon of Ann Arbor, Mich. (a subsidiary of Xerox Palo Alto Research Center), and Taiwanese panel maker SiPix are leaders in electronic ink technology. The market for electronic ink is expected to grow from $2 million in 2007 to more than $550 million in 2015.

Cholesteric LCDs represent another technology used in flexible displays. According to Young, these are typically bistable and can be either monochrome or color; they also operate in reflective mode. They will most commonly be used in smart cards, where, in an attempt to reduce fraud, an identification number on the card will change with each use. Kent Displays of Kent, Ohio, is the current leader in the field of cholesteric LCDs, the report states. Both cholesteric LCDs and electronic ink are the preferred technology for digital signs.

Organic LEDs (OLEDs) are an emerging technology and have yet to be implemented in flexible displays. But Young contends that their positive attributes are many: They are full color, they can be made with active or passive matrix, they have fast response time (an order of magnitude faster than LCDs), they are emissive, and they have a high contrast ratio. OLEDs are currently used only in rigid environments, but future development may see them on flexible displays with passive matrix as soon as 2009 and with active matrix by 2012.

The report indicates that the flexible display market initially will concentrate on simple, low-cost applications that have low information content, which does not require active matrix or fast response times. As new manufacturers break into the market and begin building infrastructure, the developing technology will enable more sophisticated applications, such as electronic books, automotive displays and military guidance systems.

The report includes more than 400 figures, and detailed descriptions of technologies, transfer processes, materials, coatings, sealants, transparent conductors and power sources. It also includes contributions by companies in the market and lists various government-funded projects that will drive this emerging industry.

For more information, go to www.displaysearch.com.


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