Mask-Free OLED Fabrication Process for Non-Tunable and Tunable White OLED Panels

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Lead Performer: OLEDWorks – Rochester, NY
DOE Total Funding: $1,490,826
Project Term: October 1, 2017 – September 30, 2019
Funding Type: SSL R&D Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA) (DE-FOA-0001613)

Project Objective

This project will attempt to develop and demonstrate a novel fabrication process that eliminates the use of shadow masks during the OLED deposition process. Today, all white OLED lighting panels are made using at least two shadow masks during the vacuum thermal evaporation (VTE) deposition process – one for organic layers and one for cathode layers – and every new panel design requires a costly new set of masks. The proposed system will allow blanket deposition of all organic and cathode layers everywhere on the substrate, eliminating the need for masks. This is made possible through innovation in the design of the substrate, a change in the processing within the deposition machine, and a modification in the post-encapsulation processing of the OLED lighting panels. The new substrate design and post-encapsulation modification use readily available low-cost manufacturing processes. The change within the VTE deposition machine is cost effective and compatible with current processing technology, is easily scalable, and allows for greater flexibility and more rapid introduction of new panel designs.

Project Impact

Ending the use of shadow masks will reduce the cost of OLED lighting in four ways. First, it will greatly simplify the deposition equipment through the elimination of in-vacuum robots currently required to change the masks mid-process, which will significantly reduce the capital cost of the deposition equipment. Second, operating costs associated with the purchase and cleaning of the masks will disappear, and time required to introduce new designs will be reduced. Third, the particles that are generated when the glass is lifted from the masks will be eliminated, increasing both yield and reliability of the lighting panels. Finally, mask handling is a significant barrier to roll-to-roll (R2R) fabrication of OLED lighting panels, because there is no practical way to manage masks and their alignment to a continuously moving substrate. Compared to today’s sheet-to-sheet processing, R2R processing is predicted by those within the industry to lower manufacturing costs by up to 30%. Mask-free OLED fabrication would go a long way toward making R2R processing a reality. The mask-free technology will further enable a practical method to manufacture low-cost tunable white OLED lighting panels, which requires additional patterning steps. White tunable lighting is the fastest growing segment of the rapidly growing field of connected lighting. This project will result in a demonstration of tunable white OLED lighting panels made using the novel mask-free fabrication process.

Contacts

DOE Technology Manager: James Brodrick, James.Brodrick@ee.doe.gov
Lead Performer: Jeff Spindler, OLEDWorks

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