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Bench Talk for Design Engineers

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Bench Talk for Design Engineers | The Official Blog of Mouser Electronics


Bend It Like – A Football? Mark Patrick

Organic produce has little in common with organic light-emitting diodes, more commonly referred to as OLEDs. OLED technology has been around since the 1980s, following the discovery of organic semiconductors in the 1970s. Their particular brand of organic is based on their atomic, carbon-based, molecular structure, shared with materials such as wood, sugar, and alcohol. Linkages of carbon atoms form a basic structure to which other atoms adhere. Like their organic fruit and veg counterparts, OLEDs will degrade over time – or rather, their output does. Fortunately, however, OLED output doesn’t degrade as quickly as oranges and carrots. That being said, despite being organic, there is nothing particularly “wholesome” about OLEDs, apart, perhaps, from their potential to be wrapped around something as circular as an orange —or maybe a football. 
 
OLEDs are very thin semiconductor layers built up in a kind of sandwich – again, we’re not talking organic food here. The ‘filling’ layers can be sandwiched between glass or plastic. Plastic substrates allow OLEDs to be super-flexible, an advantage glass obviously cannot provide. Care must be taken with the material used, which should be both moisture and oxygen resistant. The transparency of the substrate allows the OLEDs’ diffuse light to be emitted from either or both sides of the modules. 
 
Unlike Liquid Crystal Displays (LCDs), OLEDs emit their own light, and as such, eliminate the need for backlighting. A lack of backlighting not only means no glare for the user, but displays can be smaller, thinner, and lighter as well. OLEDs’ other great claim to fame is that they offer light-saving potential similar to that of LEDs, combined with low power requirements.
 
The light produced by an OLED display is easier on the eye than light produced by other sources; as there is no glare, light inhibiting shades and lenses are unnecessary. Because of the softer light they produce, they can be close to the surface of the device on which they’re used. Given a closer proximity to the user, less light is needed to produce high levels of luminance. The viewing angle on offer is also a wide one.
 
Devices utilizing OLEDs offer better colour contrast compared to other technologies such as LCDs. Their black is blacker (individual pixels or rows are simply switched off, rather than dimmed locally – which also helps with power saving) and their colours truer over a wide range. Again, a lack of backlight means enhanced colour contrast. The devices offer a much faster refresh time than do LCDs —said to be up to 200 times faster— which is beneficial when viewing fast-moving pictures on TV screens, for instance.
 
Early OLED displays suffered from screen burn-in, and users complained of colour alteration or loss of brightness over time. Even so, these early devices were heralded as the best thing since sliced bread —they were going to be super-bendy and take over the world of displays in next to no time. In reality, the market has taken much longer than anticipated or predicted to adopt the rather pricey technology.
 
In addition to pricing and implementation issues, OLED production is notorious for its low yields, particularly in large displays. Though LG has worked to improve output, much of the improved yield can be attributed to better post-production testing rather than higher yields. Yields in smaller OLED displays have improved, though degradation may be less noticeable in handheld devices featuring OLEDs as these screens are likely to be replaced more often than those of a large TV, for example.
 
Perhaps the biggest drawback to OLEDs is still cost, which is definitely on the high side compared to similar products. However, economies of scale —and the possibility of printing OLEDs on to flexible substrates via inkjet printers— will help reduce costs. A new, high-demand, killer product could drive sales and finally get OLEDs and OLED technology moving. Will you be the one to make OLED technology mainstream? What’s your idea for an innovative OLED product?



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Part of Mouser's EMEA team in Europe, Mark joined Mouser Electronics in July 2014 having previously held senior marketing roles at RS Components. Prior to RS, Mark spent 8 years at Texas Instruments in Applications Support and Technical Sales roles and holds a first class Honours Degree in Electronic Engineering from Coventry University.


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