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Carol Bateman, PPG Global Business Director, OLED, Photochromic and Specialty Synthesis (pictured), and Janice Mahon, Senior Vice President of Technology Commercialization and General Manager, Commercial Sales Business, Universal Display Corporation, discuss how the recent repurposing of a former pharmaceutical facility for OLED manufacturing is both an environmental and financial win
Phosphorescent organic light-emitting diode (PHOLED) technology and materials can be found in nearly every OLED television, smartphone, smartwatch, laptop and tablet worldwide. The technology helps make displays in electronic devices brighter and crisper and is much more energy-efficient as it converts up to 100% of the electrical charge to light.
From clean rooms to advanced purification technology, producing these high-quality materials involves some of the strictest requirements in global manufacturing.
Like pharmaceuticals, manufacturing these phosphorescent emitters for OLEDs is a complex process to get to the precise purity level needed for materials that ultimately convert electricity into light. OLEDs also require sublimation tools—a novel purification of the finished product—and a similar high purity level as semiconductor manufacturing, an industry known for its stringent purity standards.
"UDC’s phosphorescent technology and materials in OLED smartphones are estimated to save more than 860,000t of carbon dioxide equivalent each year. Based on EPA’s calculator, this is comparable to the carbon sequestered by more than 14 million tree seedlings grown for 10 years."
As one can imagine, identifying and creating an environment to effectively manufacture this material requires extensive technical manufacturing know-how.
In May, PPG and Universal Display Corporation (UDC) officially opened a new state-of-the-art OLED manufacturing facility in Shannon, Ireland. The site is expected to double the production capacity and diversify the worldwide manufacturing footprint for UDC’s energy-efficient phosphorescent OLED emissive materials to support rapidly growing consumer electronics and display marketplaces. UDC’s phosphorescent technology and materials in OLED smartphones are estimated to save more than 860,000t of carbon dioxide equivalent each year. Based on EPA’s calculator, this is comparable to the carbon sequestered by more than 14 million tree seedlings grown for 10 years.
History of the “unicorn” partnership
UDC and PPG began their partnership more than two decades ago to bring OLED technology to the display industry, at a time when home television sets were primarily cathode-ray tubes. PPG was an established company, yet they were (and are) always searching to build on its successful legacy of bringing innovative coatings and speciality materials to the marketplace. For example, PPG is responsible for numerous industry innovations including the process of electrocoating and the development and production of the proprietary PPG CR-39® optical monomer.
The partnership married UDC’s innovative technologies and materials with PPG’s successful manufacturing process and led to the breakthrough in the high-efficiency phosphorescent OLEDs fueling the display industry.
The companies continue to leverage their twenty-plus years of experience and know-how to navigate challenging times; ever-evolving customer demands; and transformational times of explosive growth, from the evolution of LCD technology to OLEDs, to the proliferation of OLEDs across the consumer electronics landscape. The companies continue to grow, pushing each other while working towards the same vision.
The companies searched for a new manufacturing site that best fit their needs. This led them to find the Shannon facility while researching various options. The benefits of Shannon were multifold. The region has a highly educated, highly trained, and very experienced workforce. Tapping into this talent pool sets the companies up for future growth. In addition, Shannon widely safeguards supply chain security.
Uniquely, the facility was previously a pharmaceutical manufacturing plant. The site had a lot of the infrastructure needed for a high-technology industry – OLED manufacturing – to be retrofitted and tailor-made for PPG and UDC’s specific needs.
Keeping up with the speed of electronic evolution
As consumer electronics technology and requirements evolve, so can PPG production of UDC’s OLED emitters. The development of new and next-generation devices moves fast and it takes agility for a manufacturer to keep pace.
The equipment used to produce and test the products, combined with PPG and UDC’s 20-plus years of know-how, allows the companies to be agile and efficiently respond to customer requests, such as modifying formulas.
Increasing capacity through Shannon, UDC and PPG support the growing OLED industry. The two companies can also pivot quickly to meet increasing customer needs now and into the future. The Shannon site can and should be a model for other manufacturing companies looking to leverage existing infrastructure for their needs.
When selecting a manufacturing location, the odds may not be in your favour. A global pandemic could have easily stopped PPG and UDC from succeeding but more than 20 years of partnership and history enabled the team to persevere and find, build and bring online the manufacturing facility for now and the future.