OLED Lighting Edges Closer to Commercial Reality

OLED Lighting Edges Closer to Commercial Reality

by Sven Murano

OLED lighting entered the stage about a decade ago with significant enthusiasm behind it; however, one cannot fail to notice that recently more skepticism can be heard from market observers.  Despite promising early design studies and small-sized production campaigns, OLED lighting is clearly struggling to generate significant sales volume.  Even analysts – usually an over-optimistic group – have become rather careful with their predictions for the coming 2–3 years.

Does this mean OLED lighting will be stuck in its infancy?  Is it already time to write obituaries for this once-promising technology?  Certainly not!

There are some very good reasons to be optimistic about the current phase of OLED lighting and to see it as just a pause in the otherwise very dynamic development of this technology.  What seems to be holding back OLED lighting at the moment is competition from inorganic LEDs.  LED technology is impressing many with its high-performance levels and constantly decreasing costs.  LEDs have garnered a lot of attention from lighting-market players who are still struggling with the adoption of the solid-state lighting wave and are looking for solutions that work now.

This issue of Information Display features two articles that outline how OLED lighting can develop toward commercial success in the coming years – both technology-wise and market-wise.  Jörg Amelung from Tridonic gives us an overview of the technological features that OLEDs offer and the market segments in which this technology can benefit from these features, which include slim areas emitting diffuse light sources.  The article also states which minimum performance requirements need to be fulfilled in order to ensure market entry and which integration difficulties need to be solved.  The author also analyzes some devices that are available on the market today and offers examples of some first applications from different lighting companies.

The article from Panasonic’s Kazuyuki Yamae focuses instead on the technological progress of OLED technology for lighting applications.  His team at Panasonic has managed to achieve record-setting efficiency values for OLED lighting panels in recent years by maximizing the light-extraction efficiencies of the devices.  He shows very nicely the fundamental optical problems that OLED developers must solve and describes a solution that was discovered at Panasonic’s laboratories.  Finally, he provides an outlook of how efficiency levels should develop in the coming years, in both R&D and commercial terms.

With both articles, you will have a good snapshot of the current state of OLED lighting technology, but none of the authors answers the question of when exactly OLED lighting will make the move into our offices and living rooms.  My personal expectation is that the breakthrough is just around the corner.  Steady improvements in technological foundations are being made in labs all over the world and all of the big players in Europe and Asia are just waiting for the right moment to ramp up their production.  At the same time, several smaller start-up companies are pushing into the market in a search for their own niches, and this is keeping the bigger guys alert.  Lighting designers have developed an initial understanding of this new thing to come, and luminaire makers are therefore beginning to implement OLEDs in their roadmaps.

The biggest piece missing in the puzzle so far is the commitment to larger investments in manufacturing volume.  This is similar to the situation that AMOLED display makers were in some years ago before Samsung led the way.

In contrast to AMOLED displays, however, production lines for lighting modules are far less complex and cost intensive.  So we will not have a limited amount of companies dominating the market, but rather a multitude of companies as active producers.  With a 40% annual reduction expectation, OLED lighting prices should reach a level where functional rather than decorative uses will become viable – probably in the next 2–3 years.  Now might be the right time to invest in those missing additional manufacturing lines….  •


Sven Murano is Vice President of Product Management for Novaled AG in Dresden, Germany.  He can be reached at sven.murano@novaled.com.