Thorn to produce first printed PLED luminaire

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A British lighting business is aiming to produce the country’s first printed ultra-high-efficiency polymer light-emitting diode (PLED) luminaire that could be integrated into building designs.

Thorn Lighting is leading a UK consortium that has taken a share of £8.4m in Technology Strategy Board funding to scale-up plastic electronic technologies to meet market demands.

The company is leading partners including Cambridge Display Technology (CDT), Tridonic, Pilkington, Conductive Inkjet Technologies (CIT) and Durham University.

Geoff Williams, OLED team leader at Herts-based Thorn Lighting, said he and his colleagues have already demonstrated success in printing small 25cm PLED panels in the laboratory, but now will be proving the manufacturing process on a scaled-up level. An in-depth article on the growth of Britain’s plastic electronics industry − including contributions from Geoff Williams − can be read here.

The consortium will use facilities at the Printable Electronics Technology Centre (PETEC) based in Sedgefield, County Durham, and their goal is to install a large-area coating line there by early 2011.

Williams explained that the printing process works by depositing layers of thermal liquid film and a solvent on a substrate. Each layer is baked to boil off the solvents before the next layer is deposited, he said.

‘It is very straightforward,’ he added. ‘However, one of the challenges will be controlling the layer thicknesses over the whole surface area because, otherwise, you end up producing variations in the surface appearance.’

According to Williams, Thorn Lighting could be ready to open a manufacturing facility for printed PLED panels by as early as 2014, giving it time in the interim to evaluate the market potential for the technology.

‘In order to realise reasonable volume to the order of half a million to a million lighting panels a year, it will require an investment ofbetween €50m (£41m) and €100m in printing technologies,’ he said. ‘Anybody that is going to invest that sort of money into a manufacturing facility needs to make sure the market is primed and people are willing to buy the products.’

Williams said the flexibility of polymer lighting makes it capable of being used in a range of designs. If his group achieves their goal of developing polymer lighting with ‘ultra-high efficiency’, it could be an attractive choice for architects designing future carbon-neutral buildings, he said.