After Decade of Development, Cymer Moves Into OLED Display Manufacturing

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thin-film base layer on a screen’s backplane, or control layer. Each transistor in the grid controls a light-emitting diode (LED), and each LED illuminates a single pixel. Another key innovation involves depositing one of three proprietary organic compounds precisely atop each LED to make a red, green, or blue pixel.

Knowles says OLED technology requires less material, and has fewer parts than are needed to make an LCD display screen, which typically uses a gel-like layer of liquid crystal in front of a light source (a backlight). As light passes through, the liquid crystals are electronically modulated to produce images. OLED screens are “more expensive to fabricate today,” Knowles says, but he predicts that costs will come down as manufacturers gain experience and OLED volumes increase.

Knowles tells me that TCZ grew out of a new business development activity that began at Cymer about 10 years ago. Cymer moved from R&D to form a joint venture in 2005 with a German optics business called Carl Zeiss that was focused on commercializing its new approach to OLED manufacturing. The innovation proved to be successful enough that Cymer decided in January to acquire the 40 percent stake that Zeiss held in the joint venture, so that TCZ (which stems from “Team Cymer Zeiss”) is now a wholly owned division of Cymer.

So what’s the innovation?

One of the trickiest steps in the OLED manufacturing process is melting the 50-nanometer layer of silicon semiconductor used in the backplane to form a poly-crystalline semiconductor that bonds to the glass—without melting the glass itself. By working with Zeiss, Knowles says Cymer developed a technique for using a 600-watt, deep-ultraviolet laser to melt the silicon semiconductor layer. The method, which operates a high-power, Xenon-Fluoride laser much like a line scanner, generates temperatures of 2,732 degrees Fahrenheit (1,500 degrees Celsius) on the thin-film surface, yet the temperature of the glass underneath never rises more than 10 degrees.

“I tell my kids it’s like melting the peanut butter on your sandwich without toasting the bread,” Knowles says. Much of the cost of OLED manufacturing involves the semiconductor layer, and Knowles estimates that TCZ’s innovation will lower the cost of making the poly-crystalline layer by 30 percent to 50 percent.

With its TCZ business, Cymer also has taken a … Next Page »

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Bruce V. Bigelow was the editor of Xconomy San Diego from 2008 to 2018. Read more about his life and work here. Follow @bvbigelow

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