OLED is an emerging display technology that enables beautiful and efficient displays and lighting panels. OLEDs are already being used in many mobile devices and TVs, and the next generation of these panels will be flexible and bendable.
Different kinds of flexibility
When we talk about flexible OLEDs, it's important to understand what that means exactly. A flexible OLED is based on a flexible substrate which can be either plastic, metal or flexible glass. The plastic and metal panels will be light, thin and very durable - in fact they will be virtually shatter-proof.
The first range of devices that use flexible OLED displays are not really flexible from the user perspective. The device maker bends the displays, or curves it - but the final user is not able to actually bend the device. These first-gen flexible OLEDs are adopted many premium smartphones, for example the Samsung edge-type Galaxy phones or Apple's iPhone X and Xs. Besides the beautiful designs, a flexible OLED has several advantages especially in mobile devices - the displays are lighter, thinner and more durable compared to glass based displays.
Second generation flexible OLED displays can be bent by the user - these can be used for example to create foldable smartphones - the first range of which are expected to hit the market by the end of 2019.
The latest flexible OLED news:
In April 2019, after early reviewers reported that that the foldable screen in their Galaxy Fold devices broke down after a day or so, Samsung decided to delay the release of its foldable smartphone, the Galaxy Fold. Samsung started shipping the re-designed and improved Galaxy Fold in Korea on September 6.
Samsung took three months to re-design and fix all the issues in the Fold smartphone, it updated the design and upgraded the construction to better protect the device from external particles. An early review now says that the Galaxy Fold may be improved, but it is still not durable enough.
The Fraunhofer FEP institute developed OLED light strips made from tiled flexible OLED lighting panels. The new strips can be produced in any length and will be on display next week at the International Symposium on Automotive Lighting 2019 in Darmstadt, Germany.
The Fraunhofer FEP produces the flexible OLED panels in a sheet-to-sheet process, and in such a way that they can be connected without creating visible interruptions to the active surface. This makes it possible to produce infinitely long OLED light strips. Each segment can be controlled individually - so that different dimming or dynamic signalling can be achieved.
BOE says that it shipped 9.1 million AMOLED displays in the first half of 2019 - better than expected as Huawei increased its OLED penetration to 24% in Q2 2019 (up from 9% in Q2 2018). BOE though warns of weak demand for flexible OLEDs and the company lowered its 2019 fully-year guidance to 30 million units (down from 30-50 million).
BOE further announced that it will delay the phase 3 of its Chengdu B7 6-Gen OLED fab due to the weak flexible OLED demand. CLSA estimates that BOE ships more than 60% of Huawei's flexible OLED displays. Over 90% of BOE's OLED revenue is attributed to Huawei, but BOE aims to add one or two new customers starting in Q4 2019.
China-based Tianma announced that it plans to construct a 6-Gen flexible AMOLED production line in Xiamen. The company will setup a joint-venture with the local government that will help finance the new fab, which will cost an estimated 48 billion Yuan ($6.8 billion USD).
Tianma estimates that it will take 30 months to construct the fab, which means that initial production is estimated to start in February 2022. The new fab, when in full capacity, will product 48,000 6-Gen substrates each month.
Back in early 2017 it was reported that Apple is in discussions with BOE Display to supply OLED displays for future iPhones. Up until now Samsung was the exclusive iPhone AMOLED supplier, but a new report from Japan suggests that BOE and Apple's talks are still ongoing.
In fact the Nikkei Asian Review says that Apple is "aggressively testing" BOE's flexible AMOLED displays. The NAR claims that Apple will decide whether to add BOE as a supplier by the end of 2019. Such a deal will be a great step forward for BOE toward its goal to become a leading AMOLED supplier.
China-based OLED producer Visionox announced plans to establish a flexible and foldable OLED module factory in Guangzhou, China. Together with the local government, Visionox plans to invest 11.2 billion Yuan (around $1.6 billion USD) in this new factory.
Visionox did not provide any time frame for this new fab. The company is currently operating a 6-Gen AMOLED production line in Hebei (with a monthly capacity of 30,000 substrates) and has announced plans to establish a similar flexible OLED line in Hefei in a $6.3 billion investment.
Business Korea reports that Sharp will withdraw from the smartphone OLED market. Sharp started producing OLEDs in low volume in August 2018, and Business Korea quotes IHS saying that Sharp understands it cannot compete with Korean and Chinese companies with both technology and price.
Business Korea says that Sharp produced a total of 60,000 smartphone OLED panels - 6.2" 1440x2992 flexible notch-type AMOLEDs that were adopted in Sharp's own Aquos Zero phone. Sharp has already stopped production last month. It is not clear if Sharp will still continue to produce OLEDs for other applications (automotive perhaps?) or will it withdraw from all production.
LG Electronics installed a beautiful flexible curved OLED signage installation at Korea's Incheon Airport.:
LG has a long history of OLED installations at Incheon airport. In November 2015 LG installed a huge 13x8 meter OLED signage display made from 140 55" 4K OLED TV (a total of 290 million pixels). That was the world's largest OLED display at the time.
The United States Department of Energy (DoE) granted $1.05 million for OLEDWorks, allocated through the DoE's Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program. The funds will be used to further improve efficiency and lower the costs of flexible OLED lighting panels, which will help reduce energy consumption while simultaneously providing healthier, unique lighting solutions that are cost competitive in the main stream lighting markets.
In November 2018 OLEDWorks announced that its first flexible OLED lighting panels are now commercially available. The OLEDWorks LumiCurve Wave are produced on Corning's 0.1mm thin Willow Glass flexible glass substrates. OLEDWorks says that the Wave panels are extremely thin and light and deliver the superb light quality and excellent color rendering that is uniquely achievable with OLED.
In January 2019 Xiaomi unveiled a new prototype smartphone that uses a tri-foldable OLED display. The company did not disclose much information, but a report from Taiwan suggested that the OLED supplier for this prototype was Visionox.
In an interview with China Daily a Visionox VP confirms that Visionox supplied the foldable OLED prototypes to Visionox. He also says that Visionox supplied Xiaomi with the innovative OLED displays with under-the-screen camera (seen in the video below).