Flexible cell phone displays are on the horizon. Samsung is planning to start production of mobile phones that feature plastic displays rather than glass in 2013- that will be lighter, durable and possibly even less expensive than current cell phones on the market. The company is planning to use a plastic material instead of glass, allowing the new, essentially shatter-proof displays to roll and bend.
The displays feature energy-efficient organic light-emitting diodes (OLEDs) that are highly compact and can be deployed on flexible materials such as plastic and foil. Samsung has begun testing the new devices with flexible displays with a few customers, according to the Wall Street Journal. In addition, outside firms have been conducting tests of the new technology for applications in digital posters and fabrics with digital displays. Sony, Nokia and LG have also developed prototype flexible displays for mobile phones; however, they have not yet succeeded in mass production of devices.
Flexible electronics are a hot research topic in universities across the US. Fewer companies are conducting advanced research into innovative materials development; thus, they rely on progress from schools and tend to only invest once the research field reaches a more mature phase. One recent breakthrough could have a major impact in advancing the field of flexible electronics.
Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania (Penn) have demonstrated the ability to coat nanoscale particles of the semiconducting material cadmium selenide on flexible plastics, which could lead to high-performance electronics on flexible substrates. The research team used a method called spin coating to deposit cadmium selenide nanocrystals dispersed in an ink-like liquid on a flexible plastic sheet. Their work was recently published in the journal Nature Communications.
The Penn team achieved a performance benchmark outperforming the mainstream material, amorphous silicon, that is used for laptop liquid crystal displays and other devices. This group was able to develop cadmium selenide nanocrystal devices that can move electrons 22 times faster than in amorphous silicon; thus, enabling faster and more power-efficient electronics.
Besides speed, another advantage cadmium selenide nanocrystals have over amorphous silicon is the temperature at which they are deposited, which often dictates the feasibility of subsequent processing. Cadmium selenide nanocrystals can be deposited at room temperature and annealed below one hundred degrees Celsius versus several hundred degrees for amorphous silicon. Therefore, this material may enable and streamline the manufacturing of future flexible commercial electronics.
Lux Research released a report this week stating that the market for materials used in printed electronics manufacturing for flexible devices will nearly double over the next five years to hit $2.6 billion, as new materials are developed and show cost advantages over conventional technology to support low-cost volume production of printed electronic devices. Transparent conductive films to replace indium tin oxide widely used in touchscreens are estimated to reach $705 million, of which $112 million will be associated with inks rather than conventional deposition methods.
Smartphone touchscreens will be primarily driving this growth followed by tablets from companies like Apple and Android. Displays for electronic devices lead the way for printed semiconductors, as this sector is predicted to grow by leaps and bounds to $68 million in 2017, with solution-processed OLED emissive materials as the top application.
A new wave of flexible electronic devices are being developed which will change how consumers use these devices, and one of the top products, Samsung cell phones with flexible displays, are expected to hit the market in the near future.
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