SAN JOSE, CALIF. — Serious technological issues are impeding efforts to substitute polymers for glass as the substrate material to manufacture flat-panel displays. But industry proponents are forging ahead with research and development. Sixteen companies, linked as the U.S. Display Consortium, aim to develop the domestic infrastructure to support high-definition-display manufacturing. DuPont and Eastman Kodak Co. are among the newest members.
"The market for displays is exploding," said M. Robert Pinnel, chief technical officer of the San Jose-based USDC.
Uses for thin, high-durability displays include Internet appliances, advertising, instrumentation, front and rear projection systems and electronic books.
Pinnel spoke at a Feb. 2 news conference during the Display Applications Conference and Display Works 2000, held Jan. 31 to Feb. 4 in San Jose.
Since 1994, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has committed about $76 million in federal funding for high-definition-display infrastructure projects through USDC. Plastic materials probably make up 75 percent of recent projects, Pinnel said.
Some companies involved with polymer-related projects include BFGoodrich Co.'s optical materials unit in Cleveland; Battelle Memorial Institute in Columbus, Ohio; Dow Chemical Co.'s advanced materials division in Midland, Mich.; CHA Industries in Fremont, Calif.; and Kurt J. Lesker Co. of Clairton, Pa.
Goodrich is working on plastic substrate materials. Battelle and Dow have two projects involving low-temperature processing of hard coats for plastic substrates. High-vacuum-deposition specialist CHA is developing a web-based processing tool, and Lesker is working on the design of a linear source compatible with a roll-to-roll, web-based process.
Emerging organic-light-emitting-diode technology might be most compatible with the move into manufacturing with plastic substrates, Pinnel said.
OLEDs can "create a flexible display, a more rugged display and one that, long term, may be compatible with a roll-based web process rather than our historical batch processing using cassettes and cluster tools."
Offering low manufacturing costs, OLED technology may replace existing methods, he said.
Stanford Resource Inc. of San Jose predicts the OLED market will exceed $715 million in 2005, up from $3 million last year.
Robert Jan Visser, innovation manager for Philips Electronics NV components unit of Heerlen, the Netherlands, sees OLEDs on plastic eventually. Philips is running tests to find a polymer substrate with suitable barrier properties. But, he said, that work is more a task for the chemical industry.
Meanwhile, Philips is establishing a pilot production line for making segmented and matrixed monochrome polymer LEDs.
The lightweight, flexible substrate displays will be used initially in automotive and telecommunications applications, said Sugata Sanyal, director of market development in San Jose for Philips' flat display systems unit.
The technology offers extreme brightness for outdoor and emergency lighting. The line should start in July in a revamped Philips plant in Heerlen.
DuPont views polymer-substrate display materials as a significant opportunity. It sees plastics accounting for 10-15 percent of a total market of $14 billion per year.
"We want to build on our competency in plastics, polymers and engineering to build a new category of displays in the future," said Dalen Keys, chief technical officer of DuPont Displays in Research Triangle Park, N.C., a new group in DuPont's iTechnology unit. He is also technology director for iTechnology.
"Over the next few years we can put together structures using flexible substrates with barrier properties, sealants and multiple layers as a replacement for glass substrates," Keys said.
Market expansion for OLEDs will place more performance demands on any emerging polymer substrate, said Clifford Morris, marketing director with Sheldahl Inc.'s technical materials group in Northfield, Minn.
OLEDs require stringent moisture and oxygen barriers, Morris said.
Mostly, customers now use thin oxide-coated PET, polyethersulfone or polycarbonate film for plastic substrate.