Marcin Ratajczak
October 4, 2023

How Inuru makes OLEDs affordable


Low-Cost OLEDs and OLED Labels

Today, OLED technology is expensive and consequently so are OLED based products. Our OLED labels for instance offer an unparalleled user and product experience. Their light can not only increase visibility and help creating beautiful product experience, but could also be used on medical products, helping patients to use medication correctly or on indicating best-before-dates on

Still they have not left their luxury niche, due to it's high pricing. A staggering 90% of their manufacturing cost is attributed to OLED.

This results in a price point that only a handful of applications can afford and confines OLED labels to luxury niches. This limitation also prevents the integration of lighting as a smart and interactive user interface into applications, where millions of people worldwide and so society could benefit. We are talking about better medication, reduction of food waste and wate in general. 

Inuru's mission is to democratize OLED technology by making it affordable. This breakthrough dismantles the cost barriers associated with OLED, opening the door to mass adoption and applications that generate purpose on price-point. We achieve this by simplifying the OLED production process, transitioning from complex semiconductor methods to straightforward printing. 

Illumination by Nanometer Precision

So how did we do that? OLED technology has been around for years and has found its way into numerous consumer products like phones and televisions, but hasn't ventured much further. We wanted to know why such an ingenious technology has stopped to evolve. We soon found out that is was the pricing. 

At the beginning of our journey, we delved into the reasons behind OLED's exorbitant manufacturing costs. The concise answer lies in OLED's demand for a highly precise environment and tools to ensure fabrication. An OLED consists of thin layers, each several nanometers in size, and even minor deviations from this precision can result in device malfunctions. 

In the early days, the gold standard for achieving this precision was through vacuum deposition. However, this approach required significant capital investment (CAPEX) and entailed high operational costs, ultimately leading to high unit costs. Furthermore, the process was wasteful and inflexible due to its reliance on evaporation techniques. 

To shape the evaporation process, expensive masks were needed, costing several hundreds of thousands of dollars for a minimum of five masks. This rendered small-scale production lots of even 100,000 units economically unfeasible. All this was a resulting  ensure the precision in producing the OLED's functional layers.

Printed OLED - low cost lighting in any shape

In 2012, we set ourselves the ambitious goal of creating the most cost-effective OLED on the market, one that could bring lighting to new and previously inaccessible places. Identifying the manufacturing process as the primary obstacle to our plan, we pondered whether it was possible to achieve the required precision through alternative means.

Upon examining the process, we realized that evaporation was effective only in a vacuum. Thus, by eliminating evaporation, we could eliminate the need for a vacuum, thereby eventually reducing investment and operational costs. We thus explored processes where, instead of evaporation, we could deposit materials onto a substrate and found that there was a process already existing that offered the utmost precision for this approach: printing. Our concept revolved around reversing the evaporation process into a simple printing method, relying on chemistry and gravity to perform the task instead of precise physical alignment.

Initially, we mixed the materials typically used in evaporation with a solvent and tested whether we could create a functional OLED. After months of painstaking work, we successfully produced a working device. Subsequently, we analyzed various printing processes, assessing potential risks to precision and how addressing these issues would impact our cost objectives.

Ultimately, we chose a digital printing process, akin to the inkjet printers commonly found in home or office settings. This approach allowed us to position materials with pinpoint accuracy, minimizing material waste and enabling on-demand OLED production by simply uploading a file into the system instead of relying on complex masking systems. 

In this way, we could create customized lighting solutions with no minimum order quantity, making us more cost-effective, quicker, and capable of breaking down all the barriers associated with OLED technology.

This innovation allows us to print lighting on demand. OLED any shape and color. This has not been achieved by any company far and know we are at the verge of proving that we can manufacture this at high volume.

Inuru printed OLED for low-cost OLED labels and further surface lighting applications.

The Dragon Factory: World’s first low cost OLED production

Through the above described approach, we managed to significantly reduce the costs of OLED production and revolutionize production of lighting on demand. However, the process we initially developed on our pilot line was labor-intensive, prone to mistake and thus necessitating the elimination of manual steps to reach the desired cost point from our customers.

To achieve this, we recently made a substantial investment in our first factory and especially in the Dragon production line. (Named due to the distinctive noise it makes during nighttime, resembling a sleeping dragon).

This factory now empowers us to offer to our existing customer larger OLEDs with increased functionality at the same price point or reduce costs for specifications that previously constrained us.

This will allow to satisfy demand and reach first production scale. By achieving scale, we will further improve production efficiency and realize economies of scale in material sourcing. This will again allow to significantly reduce the cost of OLED manufacturing, paving the way for low OLED labels for novel applications such as pharmaceutical drug packaging and food waste tags. 

But this is just the beginning. The printing of OLED shape on demand represents a significant step forward towards more complex lighting structure consisting out of fine pixels. During the process we will learn enhance our precision and produce low cost displays that we will be able place onto packaging. So instead of printing on packaging, we will be able to stream the content. A packaging thus can be multi-purpose and so shared amongst many brands. Thus will help replace single-use products on store shelves with circular packaging and the world to be more efficient with it’s scarce resources.

Currently, we are on the cusp of the next phase, scaling OLED production to demonstrate that low-cost OLEDs can be manufactured. In short:

- Low-cost OLEDs are the key to a smarter and better world

- Our first low-cost OLED production line aims to scale existing customer applications

- This will further reduce prices and pave the way for mass applications in fields like medicine and food waste management.

- This progress allows us to continually enhance the technology and create even better products