GADGETS

A hack can help you print 3D OLED screens at home


You may not have to send in your hardware (or buy replacement parts) if the screen breaks – you can just make new screens yourself. University of Minnesota Twin Cities researchers have developed what they say is the first fully 3D-printed flexible OLED display. In theory, you wouldn’t have to rely on boards made in large, remote factories to build or repair your tools.

The new approach combines two 3D printing methods to print the six layers needed for a functional display. The team used extrusion printing to make the electrodes, packaging, insulation and interfaces, while the active layers were sprayed at room temperature. Previous attempts by different teams have either had problems with light uniformity (consistency across the entire plate) or have relied on techniques beyond 3D printing to put some components in place, such as spin coating or thermal evaporation.

The prototype was only 1.5 inches wide and used only 64 pixels. Any practical uses require a much higher resolution (a 1080p screen requires more than 2 million pixels), and the scientists also want to improve the brightness. Adapting the technology for home use may also take some time. The university has used a custom 3D printer that costs as much as a Tesla Model S — it may take a while for the method to become applicable to off-the-shelf printers, even including high-end models like the $4850 FormLabs’ 3B+.

The nature of the technology makes these goals relatively achievable, though, and opens the door to many possibilities if and when home-printed OLED screens are practical. In addition to DIY repairs, this can help you create home gadgets with custom screens. While this effort doesn’t quite represent the democratization of technology manufacturing (there are many more parts than displays, after all), it could reduce your reliance on companies’ pre-assembled components.

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