OLEDs are based on organic (carbon-based) materials. Unlike LEDs, which are small point sources, OLEDs are made in sheets that provide a diffuse-area light source. While developing rapidly, OLED technology is less mature than LED technology, whose rapid advancement has created a moving target for OLED products in terms of lighting performance and pricing. Still, OLED manufacturers are optimistic that with a few key breakthroughs, OLEDs will offer a value proposition complementary with LED lighting approaches.
Innovations are still needed on multiple fronts to increase the efficiency, lifetime, and light output of OLED devices. The development of device architectures and materials systems (particularly blue) that allow for improved stability and efficiency, and methods to extract the light generated by the OLED, remain key challenges.
In addition to increasing the performance of devices, OLED costs need to be simultaneously reduced. Manufacturing technology developments and infrastructure investments will be essential to enable price reductions and transition OLED products from the prototype stage to commercial viability. By improving the yield (panel-to-panel color, brightness consistency) and reliability (premature failure rate) through improved manufacturing processes, costs could be lowered considerably. Another possible route to decreasing production costs is the development of roll-to-roll manufacturing capabilities using printing deposition processes, which may allow for high materials usage efficiency and throughput. What’s more, roll-to-roll manufacturing is well-suited for processing on flexible substrates, and a key differentiating feature of OLEDs is their ability to operate as flexible or conformable devices.
Leveraging the flexibility and other distinctive qualities of OLEDs—e.g., thin, lightweight, large-area, diffuse light source—to create novel luminaires is another key challenge. The purpose of such luminaire concepts is to spur the adoption of OLEDs, promoting consumer interest and familiarity with the technology and generating revenue for continued R&D investment.