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Startup Kateeva using Inkjet printer and nitrogen to mass-produce OLED screens

Can your old inkjet printer be used to produce a cheap OLED display? Not exactly, but a startup is using inkjet technology to simplify mass production of OLED screens.

California-based Kateeva has unveiled Yieldjet, an inkjet printing-based manufacturing solution that it says will allow for easier mass production of OLED displays.

As seen on TVs, OLED displays provide an impressive viewing experience when compared to their LCD counterparts, but production is complicated and slow and the resulting TVs are very expensive. A 55in OLED TV from Samsung, for example, will set you back about several thousand pounds.

The technology is also cropping up on smaller gadgets. LG recently announced that it will begin mass-producing the world's first flexible OLED smartphone panels.

"Existing OLED manufacturing is constrained by vacuum evaporation techniques that use shadow masks for patterning," Kateeva said. "It's a simple and well-established technique, but inefficient, difficult to scale, and prone to yield-killing particles."

Kateeva said it encloses the Yieldjet in a chamber full of nitrogen, which the firm said is the ultimate OLED processing environment. "It shields OLED materials from moisture and air [known degraders of quality], and enables consistently superior device lifetime," Kateeva said. "Kateeva is not the first to master the pure-nitrogen technique, but it is the first to make it production worthy.

"A smaller process enclosure speeds post-maintenance recovery and replacement of printheads without exposing the enclosure to air. With this innovation, downtime drops from as much as 24 hours to less than two."

The company said it also borrowed "stringent protocols from the semiconductor industry" to battle particle contamination, which it said produces a 10 times reduction in particles when compared to commonly used OLED production techniques.

Finally, production-quality OLED displays require the highest quality coating uniformity. With Yieldjet, Kateeva said it provides that uniformity with a process window that is five times wider than standard technologies.

"Yieldjet was inspired by a simple vision: help display manufacturers realize the full potential of OLED technology so that their customers can enjoy and benefit from these dazzling new displays," Kateeva president and co-founder Dr. Conor Madigan said in a statement. "Yieldjet delivers by using inkjet printing to crack difficult technical problems that made manufacturing flexible and large-size OLEDs challenging and costly."

Kateeva did not reveal which companies might take advantage of Yieldjet printing, except to say that it is "encouraged by our customers' interest."