IDG News Service - Flexible screens as thin as a piece of paper may be available for e-readers by early next year thanks to a project from Taiwan's Industrial Technology Research Institute (ITRI) and licensee AU Optronics, one of the world's largest LCD screen makers.
ITRI developed a manufacturing process for the thin displays and AU is in the process of converting an old factory to mass produce them, according to John Chen, general director of the Display Technology Center at ITRI.
AU Oprtonics confirmed the joint research project with ITRI but declined further comment.
"The beauty of this technology is you use today's production technology," he said, adding that there's no need to invest billions of dollars in a new factory, which would increase the price of the technology and any end-products it finally went into.
The partnership could lead to thin, flexible displays that could be added to mobile phones for a instant, pull-out screen to wearable screens on clothes or larger rolled up screens that serve the daily news at breakfast every day.
The current project is to make e-reader screens aimed at schools. The idea is that the flexible screens are more resistant to breaking, since they bend, and would make better e-readers for young children. The downside of the idea is that a new touchscreen function for the paper-thin screens is not quite ready, though it is also already being licensed by ITRI to another company that specializes in touchscreen technology.
The other point of the project is to move to brilliant color screens such as AMOLED (Active Matrix Organic Light Emitting Diode) in the future from the monochrome flexible screens that will be made for e-readers. Converting the AU factory to produce the thin, flexible screens is a project that will eventually lead to AMOLED and other kinds of paper-thin screens.
Coming up with a way to manufacture the thin screens was particularly tricky, said Chen.
The flexible screens are so thin, around 30 microns, that they have to be bonded to a piece of glass during the production process so they don't curl up, Chen said. Problems cropped up when they tried to lift the flexible screen off the glass at the end of the process because heat used in production caused the screens to bond to the glass, so they usually ripped. ITRI tried and failed 63 times to figure out a way to lift the finished screen from the piece of glass before a night out watching a cook led them to the result.
The cook used oil to lift thin Taiwanese crepe from a hot pan, fully intact. ITRI came up with a similar way to add a not-too-sticky material between the flexible display and the glass that enabled them to lift the flexible screen off the glass without a problem.
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