OLED Technology Guidelines and History

A Curved ultra high definition OLED TV from Samsung on display

Kārlis Dambrāns / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

OLED stands for "organic light-emitting diode" and its cutting edge technology results from many innovations in display monitors, lighting, and more. As the name suggests, OLED technology is the next-generation advance of regular LEDs and LCDs, or liquid crystal displays.

LED Displays

Closely related LED displays were first introduced to consumers in 2009. LED television sets were much thinner and brighter than their predecessors: plasmas, LCD HDTVs, and, of course, the humongous and outdated CRTs, or cathode-ray tube displays. OLED displays were introduced commercially a year later, and allow for even thinner, brighter, and crisper displays than LED. With OLED technology, completely flexible screens that can fold or roll up are possible.

Lighting

OLED technology is exciting because it is a viable and functional innovation in lighting. A lot of OLED products are light panels whose large areas diffuse lighting, but the technology lends itself well to different applications like the ability to change shape, colors, and transparency. Other benefits of OLED lighting compared to traditional alternatives includes energy efficiency, and the lack of poisonous mercury.

In 2009, Philips became the first company to manufacture an OLED lighting panel called Lumiblade. Philips described the potential of their Lumiblade as "thin (less than 2 mm thick) and flat, and with little heat dissipation, Lumiblade can be embedded into most materials with ease. It gives designers almost limitless scope to mold and meld Lumiblade into everyday objects, scenes and surfaces, from chairs and clothing to walls, windows and tabletops."

In 2013, Philips and BASF combined efforts to invent a lighted transparent car roof. It will be solar powered, and will turn transparent when switched off. That's just one of many revolutionary developments possible with such state-of-the-art-tech.

Mechanical Functions and Processes

In the simplest of terms, OLEDs are made from organic semiconductor materials that emit light when an electrical current is applied. OLEDs works by passing electricity through one or more incredibly thin layers of organic semiconductors. These layers are sandwiched between two charged electrodes–one positive and one negative. The “sandwich” is placed on a sheet of glass or other transparent material which, in technical terms, is called a “substrate”. When current is applied to the electrodes, they emit positively and negatively charged holes and electrons. These combine in the middle layer of the sandwich to create a brief, high-energy state called “excitation”. As this layer returns to its original, stable, “non-excited” state, the energy flows evenly through the organic film, causing it to emit light.

History

OLED diode technology was invented by researchers at the Eastman Kodak company in 1987. Chemists Ching W. Tang and Steven Van Slyke were the principal inventors. In June 2001, Van Slyke and Tang received an Industrial Innovation Award from the American Chemical Society for their work with organic light-emitting diodes.

Kodak released several of the earliest OLED-equipped products, including the first digital camera with a 2.2-inch OLED display with 512 by 218 pixels, the EasyShare LS633, in 2003. Kodak has since licensed its OLED technology to many companies, and they are still researching OLED light technology, display technology, and other projects.

In the early 2000s, researchers at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and the Department of Energy invented two technologies necessary to make flexible OLEDs. First, Flexible Glass an engineered substrate that provides a flexible surface, and second, a Barix thin film coating that protects a flexible display from harmful air and moisture.