OLEDS and solar cells to come straight from the printer in future

November 18, 2013 // By Paul Buckley
Scientists at the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Polymer Research IAP in Potsdam-Golm have been working together with mechanical engineering company MBRAUN to develop a production facility capable of creating OLEDs as well as organic solar cells on an industrial scale.

The innovation makes it now possible to print OLEDs and solar cells from solutions containing luminescent organic molecules and absorptive molecules respectively, which makes printing them onto a carrier film straightforward. Usually, printing them involves vaporizing small molecules in a high vacuum, making it an expensive process.

Scientists had previously only ever used various printing technologies to design components on a laboratory scale. They can now produce larger sample series – and this is advantageous for the applications that feature large illuminated surfaces and information systems that require tailored solutions produced in relatively small numbers.

“We’re now able to produce organic components under close-to-real-life manufacturing conditions with relative ease. Now for the first time it will be possible to translate new ideas into commercial products,” explained Dr. Armin Wedel, head of division at the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Polymer Research IAP.

At the heart of the pilot plant is a robot that controls different printers that basically act like an inkjet printing system. OLEDs are applied to the carrier material one layer at a time using a variety of starting materials. This produces a homogenous surface that creates a perfect lighting layer. “We’re able to service upscale niche markets by offering tailored solutions, as we can apply the organic electronic system to customers’ specifications, just like in digital printing,” explained Wedel.

Industry experts estimate that printed OLEDs hold out the promise of becoming a billion-dollar market. “The focus in Germany and Europe is on OLED lighting because this is the home market for large companies such as Osram and Philips,” explained Wedel. “The manufacturing facility will help secure competitive advantages in this particular segment of the market. It strengthens the German research community, and also demonstrates the capabilities of German plant engineering,” said Dr. Martin Reinelt, CEO of MBRAUN in Garching.

OLEDs have several advantages over conventional display technologies. Unlike liquid crystal displays they do not require backlighting, which means