With laptops and smartphones boasting OLED screens, their color quality is excellent but comes at a premium cost. UMN researchers believe they may be able to solve the problem of high prices for consumers by creating an affordable way to print out organic light emitting diodes (OLEDs). A new device called a 3D bioprinting system has been developed by scientists at the University of Minnesota (UMN). It costs about $1 million and prints human tissue using living cells from patients’ own bodies.

While OLED displays are usually manufactured at huge scale by major manufacturers like LGDisplay, the research may lead to small-scale production of these screens for use in smartphones and tablets by hobbyist enthusiasts.

“Our research has shown us that 3D printed electronics is feasible today,” says Dr. Michael McAlpine from University College London (UCL). “We’ve already demonstrated that these devices can be made using inkjet printers.”

Flexible organic light emitting diode (OLED) technology has been used for large screens before but now we’re seeing its potential for smaller devices, too.

OLED panels have been successfully 3D printed before, but never at this level of quality. Previously known as “partially printed” OLEDs, these were not suitable for use in actual products because they required spin coating or thermal evaporation. They’d previously made an OLED display using 3D printing, but they found that their previous method was difficult to use for making screens that were uniformly bright.

By using spray printing for the active layer and extrusion printing for electrode, insulator, and encapsulant materials, we were able to fabricate a flexible organic light emitting diode (OLED) device with 6 functional layers. It has eight rows and columns of pixelated patterns which can be used to display letters and numbers.

“We found that our flexible organic light emitting diodes (OLED) were able to maintain their performance after thousands of bendings,” said Rui Tao, one of the authors of the paper.

Furthermore, the researchers suggested that 3D printing might be used to create new display technologies, including ones that would allow us to see things we’ve never seen before, such as high-dimensional forms, displays woven into soft robots, and 3D-structured pixels for holograms.

Afterward, they’ll work to improve their 3D printed OLED displays by making them brighter and with higher resolution.

Even though there may be some hobbyist printers out there which could print something similar to the one used by the University of Minnesota researchers, they’re not going to be cheap. However, if the technology becomes more affordable, then there may be some cool DIY projects for us to look forward to. Maybe one day we might get the chance to fix our broken screens ourselves!


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