Arizona State and HP Demo Flexible, Unbreakable Displays

The Flexible Display Center (FDC) at Arizona State University and HP are showing off a prototype of flexible electronic displays that the two organizations claim are unbreakable. Made almost entirely of plastic, the displays are portable, consume less power than current computer displays, and use up to 90 percent less materials by volume. Popular applications for the technology could include electronic paper and signage.

Since the display is one of the more costly components in electronic devices, mass production of the new type of display could enable production of e-readers, notebook computers, and smart phones at much lower costs.

The displays were created by the FDC and HP using self-aligned imprint lithography (SAIL) technology invented in HP Labs, HP's central research arm. SAIL is considered "self aligned" because the patterning information is imprinted on the substrate in such a way that perfect alignment is maintained regardless of process-induced distortion.

"Flexible electronic displays are playing an increasingly important role in the global high-tech industry, serving as the crucial enabling technology for a new generation of portable devices, including e-readers and similar products designed to combine mobility with compelling user interfaces," explained Vinita Jakhanwal, principal analyst for iSuppli. "We expect the flexible display market to grow from $80 million in 2007 to $2.8 billion by 2013. The FDC is a key participant in helping to develop the technology and manufacturing ecosystem to support this market."

SAIL technology enables the fabrication of thin film transistor arrays on a flexible plastic material in a low-cost, roll-to-roll manufacturing process. This allows for more cost-effective continuous production, rather than batch sheet-to-sheet production.

"The display HP has created with the FDC proves the technology and demonstrates the remarkable innovation we're bringing to the rapidly growing display market," said Carl Taussig, director, information surfaces, HP Labs. "In addition to providing a lower-cost process, SAIL technology represents a more sustainable, environmentally sensitive approach to producing electronic displays."

The first practical demonstration of the flexible displays was achieved through collaborative efforts between the FDC and HP as well as other FDC partners including DuPont Teijin Films and E Ink. To create this display, the FDC produces stacks of semiconductor materials and metals on flexible Teonex Polyethylene Naphthalate (PEN) substrates from DuPont Teijin Films. HP then patterns the substrates using the SAIL process and subsequently integrates E Ink's Vizplex imaging film to produce an actively addressed flexible display on plastic. Vizplex imaging film enables images to persist without applied voltage, thereby greatly reducing power consumption for viewing text.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal and Campus Technology. She can be reached at dian@dischaffhauser.com or on Twitter @schaffhauser.

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