When it comes to display technology, one of the biggest names in the field is organic light emitting diode (OLED). The images displayed are sharp, rich in color and downright beautiful, and the displays fairly sip power, making an OLED display a great addition to any home or business. But OLED displays are expensive, and not exactly simple to manufacture, making wide adoption of these systems less than likely in the short term. A printing standard, however—the inkjet printer—may well have just the solution in mind, and a fairly elegant solution at that.
Kateeva, a manufacturing equipment maker, is working on a means to help use inkjet printing technology to make OLED systems easier to build. With Kateeva's system—currently available for anyone interested—a movable platform allows for extremely precise positioning of glass or plastic under a series of custom print heads, in the style of an inkjet printer. But these print heads are tuned in such a fashion as to place pico-liter-sized droplets in a sequence that could be used to build pixels in a display. Plus, the Kateeva system can allow for as many as six 55-inch displays to be built at the same time, making it a sound choice for industrial builders.
With the Kateeva system operating—says Conor Madigan, the company's president and co-founder—one of the biggest potential failure points in making OLED displays is removed. The step in question, which increases the risk of making a display defective yet is necessary to the process, is removed and thus the whole process has fewer error rates, less waste, and less expense in manufacturing.
The Kateeva system replaces the use of a tool known as a “shadow mask”, a fine metal stencil that makes sure that the vapors of material that become OLED pixels condense into full pixels. But since much of the material involved in making OLED pixels ends up going to waste—it coats the walls and the shadow mask itself in the midst of the vacuum chamber that is normally required to build the displays to prevent contamination—that bumps up the waste factor. Since the Kateeva system can deposit the droplets as needed, where needed, the waste posed by the shadow mask process is removed.
There are still problems here, of course, problems that Kateeva has been hard at work eliminating. The problem is that the inkjet process can end up generating much more particles than needed if not carefully designed, which is why Kateeva has been focusing so hard on preventing such issues. Kateeva has been taking many of its cues from the semiconductor industry, which requires incredible cleanliness to prevent contamination. As such, Kateeva's processes operate in an all-nitrogen process chamber, ideal for its ability to eliminate contaminants from both air and moisture, none of which can enter a nitrogen chamber.
This actually raises a terrific point about making OLEDs ready for prime time. Seen by many as the next step in screen technology—taking over from straight LED—it's actually a good time for OLED to come more online. We're just starting to see the earliest stirrings of the 4K resolution display system to come into play, and having OLED technology to match may well mean a double-sided step up, and move us soundly into the next generation of display technologies. It should make for a very interesting time to come in the near-term, and we may well be getting our entertainment on OLED before too much longer.
Edited by Rory J. Thompson
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