How OLED Really Hits Its Stride

By now, you know all about the global shortage of OLED panels. The only panel builder of note so far is Samsung SDI, which currently pumps almost every screen it builds into smartphones from the handset-building sister division of Samsung.

SDI just started production in a second OLED factory two months ahead of schedule, dramatically increasing its monthly output, and LG Display (NYSE: LPL  ) has a smaller OLED plant in the works. Philips (NYSE: PHG  ) plans to expand an experimental facility for making OLED lights into a full-blown production line next year. But it's just not enough to feed a world hungry for brilliant, power-saving OLED displays -- and certainly not good enough to start selling light fixtures or TV sets based on the technology.

OLED technologist and longtime Rule Breaker Universal Display (Nasdaq: PANL  ) has already seen tremendous improvement since OLED displays started hitting the mainstream, but that manufacturing bottleneck has to go before the company and its stock can reach its full potential. Not that a 188% year-over-year price jump is anything to complain about, but Universal Display would be doing even better if manufacturing wasn't a problem (and Red Sox fans could get along with Yankee devotees in a universe where all cows are perfectly spherical).

But hyper-efficient manufacturing was actually always an important part of the OLED promise. Now, the technology behind printing screens through a modified inkjet mechanism is finally coming of age. Perfecting this stuff will break down the last barriers to OLED in every device and application you'd want to have it, and that day is getting closer.

At the SID Display Week trade show earlier this month, printed OLED screens were showcased by Sony (NYSE: SNE  ) , the Toppan and Casio joint OLED venture, and chemical giant DuPont (NYSE: DD  ) .

All three firms had working examples on the show floor, though none is quite ready for full-scale production yet. Some kinks in the system have to be worked out first, such as the expected lifetime of printed display pixels. To give you some idea of the efforts being put into that problem, DuPont quadrupled the lifetime of its green pixels over the last year. Those green pixels will burn bright through more than 53 years of constant use while the blue ones would currently fade after less than four years.

True commercial success will come when the OLED folks redefine the term "screen printing" on a large scale. Keep an eye out for that momentous event by adding Universal Display to My Watchlist.

Fool contributor Anders Bylund holds no position in any of the companies discussed here. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Universal Display. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. You can check out Anders' holdings and a concise bio if you like, and The Motley Fool is investors writing for investors.


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