Some trends in consumer technology markets may be thought too fashion-conscious or gimmicky to be relevant to serious industrial applications. However, many “smart” industrial applications in contexts such as manufacturing, retail, municipal, and transport and infrastructure can benefit from some of the novel and intriguing developments now coming to the fore in the consumer space.
One example is flexible displays. When ultra-thin AMOLED displays became commercially available, we were promised exciting new visual experiences containing curved and flexible displays in our living rooms, kitchens, and pockets.
What can the future hold for foldable displays?
Flexible displays that can be shaped once at manufacture, say to conform around a curved surface, are not the same as foldable or dynamically flexible displays.
As consumers, we can now experience those curved televisions, and those seductive edge-display mobiles. But we also have the feeling that more should be possible. Where are our foldable electronic newspapers? Or the readable wearables? The watchable smartcards? Or the stowable monitors we can roll up and put away to save space?
They’re all coming. Or, at least, the materials and processes needed to make it happen are entering – or about to enter – production. The main challenges lie with fabricating pixels on flexible substrate materials such as clear polyimide, as well as reliable encapsulation and hard-coating processes. And, as ever, the yield-versus-cost equation has to be balanced. The example shown here is from Flexenable and uses glass free Organic LCD.
What is the current status of flexible displays?
At the Display Week Business Conference in San Jose earlier this year, well known brands such as Applied Materials, as well as newer yet large, well established display manufacturers including Kateeva explained their current positioning on flexible and foldable displays. They gave insights into the technologies they expect to make these new products real for consumers over the next few months and years. Critical breakthroughs have included improving the purity and quality of organic materials, as well as increasing the efficiency of inkjet printing algorithms. Kateeva pointed out that these improvements will also apply to quantum dot LED fabrication and several other types of layers that require pixel patterning, such as colour filters.
How far are we from seeing flexible displays in industrial products?
In the longer term we can expect these technologies to become economically viable for industrial applications. It could enable machine designers, for example, to avoid the expense of traditional rigid display mountings and position user interfaces in locations that operators or maintenance staff can see and touch more easily while they are working. We could see flexible displays embedded in workwear for roles such as traffic management or event security. And 360° foldable displays wrapped around items such as posts or cones can create durable interactive infrastructure, benefiting from the toughness that comes with dynamic flexibility to ensure impact resistance, vandal-proofing and temperature stability.
Although it is too soon to say exactly when some of these will change from being prospects to prototypes, we are already working with our design teams and manufacturing partners to be ready to put advanced technologies into practice as soon as they make sense for our customers.