Mainstream OLEDs are just around the bend. Really?

Here we go again: Organic light emitting diodes will soon pour into the mainstream lighting business, and will give 'conventional' LEDs a run for the money by 2016.

Says who this time?

Says Cambridge, England-based market research firm cintelliq ltd.

'OLED lighting is expected to become a strong competitor to LED lighting by 2016 one year earlier than previously thought,' the company says in a new report, OLED Lighting: Products, prices, capacity costs and forecasts 2014 – 2023.

Unlike LEDs, which are rudimentary, conventional semiconductors, OLEDs are materials that naturally emit light when excited by a current.

For years supporters have heralded them as practically the greatest thing in lighting since the sun. Light from surfaces and from bending materials will open up entirely new dimensions in which lighting becomes part of the fabric of buildings, architecture, furniture, interior design, fashion and just about anything the imagination can conjure up. Flexible OLEDs could also usher in the era of fold-up or roll-away screens for phones, computers or TVs.

Or so the thinking goes. While OLEDs have made inroads, they have been held back by manufacturing costs, and by poor energy efficiency compared to LEDs. As Lux's Ray Molony noted recently, they are one of the lighting industry's 10 great unsolved problems

But that is now set to change, according to cintelliq.

'OLED lighting may have had a gentle start but it is now firmly gaining market traction as an increasing number of OLED panels and luminaires reach the market - with the efficacy and lifetimes of current OLED panels at a performance level to last more than ten years under normal operating conditions, they are rapidly becoming an alternative to LED lighting,' it says.

The report points to recent advances and market developments, such as a 66 per cent price cut by LG Chem, and Philips' introduction of brighter panels. It also notes that Konica Minolta later this year will help push down costs of large scale production when it fires up the world's first roll-to-roll OLED panel manufacturing line.

'During the 2020-2023 period OLED lighting is set to become a major alternative to LED lighting in terms of performance, price and lifetimes,' cintelliq claims. Nuances aside, that seems to hedge its prediction that OLEDs will compete against LEDs by 2016.

It's certainly a lot of wiggle room. Which somehow befits a product that bends.

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Photo: This mock-up shows how a pliable OLED panel might illuminate a car interior. But when will the technology drive fully into the lighting industry mainstream? Image is from David Gomez-Rosado via Flickr.

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