Flexible paper-thin lighting sheets
GE Lighting has teamed up with Konica Minolta (KM) to develop sheets of OLED that could be as thin as a sheet of paper, potentially changing the design of homes and electronic systems dramatically when production starts next year.
“Lighting is becoming more than just a functional, utilitarian aspect of an environment,” says Zoltan Vamos, GE Lighting’s Budapest-based global general manager of lighting technology. “We’re still experimenting and imagining a future with OLEDs but we think our approach will allow us to apply light to literally any surface at a thickness of just a few sheets of paper.”
“OLED technology represents the biggest potential for new product development and advances in the lit environment,” said Simon Fisher, director of product design with LAPD Lighting Consultants in Lemsford, Hertfordshire. “The potential contained within flexible thin film lighting is enormous and holds the key to changing the way we design and coordinate lighting into our architecture and environments.”
Researchers and product development teams from GE Lighting in Cleveland and the Konica Minolta Technology Centre and GE’s Global Research Center in Niskayuna, New York, have been working together on OLED technology since 2007. "The time is right for OLEDs to emerge as an option for consumers, as new energy regulations taking hold around the world are impacting the design, use and disposal of lighting products,” said Vamos. “OLEDs are a gateway to limitless design possibilities that can keep pace with protocols today and anticipate those yet to come.”
What are OLEDs?
OLEDs are thin, organic materials sandwiched between two electrodes, which illuminate when an electrical charge is applied. In addition to widespread design capabilities, OLEDs have the potential to deliver dramatically improved levels of efficiency and environmental performance, while achieving the high quality of illumination found in traditional light-emitting diode (LED) systems.
KM was the first company to develop proprietary blue phosphorescent materials. In 2006, KM combined this material with multi-layer film design and innovative optical design technologies to successfully develop white OLEDs. KM’s experience making photosensitive materials and coatings has enabled the development of a highly productive roll-to-roll coating process using advanced barrier films that are considered indispensable for prolonging the life of OLED lighting. This approach, similar to newspaper printing, is expected to be less costly than the common evaporation method that forms films one by one on glass substrate. The few organic electronic products on the market today are made with more conventional batch processes and are relatively high in cost.
KM sees OLED lighting as one of its most promising new businesses. It began the construction of a new pilot line in November 2009 to establish a mass production capability. The line will be completed in the autumn of 2010. A roll-to-roll manufacturing infrastructure that enables high performance and low cost devices will allow a more widespread adoption of GE’s OLEDs when commercialization of the product—various sized panels of light (based on 75-mm X 150-mm or 3-inch x 6-inch)—starts in 2011.
“OLEDs push the boundaries of how we think about lighting,” says Vamos. “For consumers, the advent of LEDs and the emergence of OLEDs means the next five years will likely bring the most fast-paced rate of change in how we light our homes and commercial spaces. We’re in the midst of a lighting revolution.”