Researchers Have Created the First 3D Printed Flexible OLED Screen

And we could soon 3D print them at home
Chris Young
The 3D-printed display.University of Minnesota

Researchers from the University of Minnesota developed what they believe is the world's first fully 3D-printed flexible OLED display. It's a breakthrough that could allow people to print their own displays at home instead of relying on companies that manufacture panels in far-off factories, a press statement reveals.

The researchers used extrusion printing to manufacture the electrodes, interconnects, encapsulation, and insulation. Active layers were then spray painted on at room temperature. All in all, six layers were 3D printed to build a flexible and fully functioning display. 

"OLED displays are usually produced in big, expensive, ultra-clean fabrication facilities," said Michael McAlpine, senior author of the team's new study. "We wanted to see if we could basically condense all of that down and print an OLED display on our table-top 3D printer, which was custom built and costs about the same as a Tesla Model S."

Home-built flexible screens are not a 'pie in the sky' vision

At 1.5 inches wide and using only 64 pixels, the University of Minnesota team's display prototype doesn't exactly push the boat out. However, they believe their process can be improved to develop much more complex displays in the future.

"The nice part about our research is that the manufacturing is all built in, so we're not talking 20 years out with some 'pie in the sky' vision," McAlpine said. "This is something that we actually manufactured in the lab, and it is not hard to imagine that you could translate this to printing all kinds of displays ourselves at home or on the go within just a few years, on a small portable printer." 

As a point of reference, a 1080p display needs more than 2 million pixels, meaning they have some way to go. It's also worth emphasizing that the team used an incredibly expensive custom 3D printer, so it might be a while yet before they bring the process to our homes. However, aside from home 3D printing, the team also believes their flexible screens could be utilized for applications such as soft electronics and wearable devices in the future, meaning that scaling the technology could open up a whole host of possibilities.

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