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Simplified manufacturing: First fully 3D printed and flexible OLED display.
The prototype of the fully 3D-printed flexible OLED display, Credit: McAlpine Group, University of Minnesota

Researchers at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities have succeeded in fully 3D printing a flexible organic light-emitting diode (OLED) display. OLEDs function as high-quality and flexibly designable digital displays that can be used in large devices such as TV screens and monitors as well as in portable devices such as smartphones. OLED displays are lightweight, energy efficient, thin and flexible; they offer a wide viewing angle and high contrast ratio. “OLED displays are typically manufactured in large, expensive and extremely clean production facilities,” said Michael McAlpine, professor in the Kuhrmeyer Family Chair of the University of Minnesota’s Department of Mechanical Engineering and lead author of the study. “We wanted to find out if we could condense all that and print an OLED display on our tabletop 3D printer, which was custom-built and cost about the same as a Tesla Model S.”

The research team combined two different printing processes to print the six layers of devices that resulted in a fully 3D-printed, flexible display with organic light-emitting diodes. The electrodes, interconnects, insulation and encapsulation were printed using an extrusion process, while the active layers were sprayed on using the same 3D printer at room temperature. The prototype display is about 1.5 inches on each side and has 64 pixels. Each pixel functions and displays light. The next step is to improve the resolution and brightness of the displays. “The beauty of our research,” McAlpine says, “is that manufacturing is already built in, so we’re not talking about a vision 20 years from now. This is something we’ve actually made in the lab, and it’s not hard to imagine that within a few years you could transfer it to a small portable printer to print all kinds of displays yourself at home or on the go.” The full study, entitled “3D-printed flexible organic light-emitting diode displays”, can be viewed on the Science Advances website.

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