An upstate New York firm called SelfArray is touting technology that would greatly speed up the time it takes to manufacture fine pitch LED displays, using (and I am not making this up) magnets and levitation.
The company just received a National Science Foundation (NSF) Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase II Award to continue their groundbreaking work in the field.
The current challenge with making fine pitch, direct-view LED displays is that each pixel of light is an LED chip that has to be packaged and placed by high-speed robotics on a backplate to create modules, and many modules are needed to aggregate into big LED display walls. To make a wall with 4K resolution would take as many as 24 million LEDs.
Using current manufacturing methods, Self Array suggests, it would take anywhere from 3 weeks to 4 months to assemble a single direct-view LED display with 4K resolution, because the high-speed robotic arm must pick and place each LED into the pixel array individually. I THINK that would be true if just one machine was building all the modules, but what I saw in Taiwan and China were rooms full of those pick and place machines (so manufacturing times are much shorter, in reality).
By contrast, SelfArray is developing technology that utilizes magnets, vibration, and levitation to self-assemble LEDs in an array that can then be used to make a display. By using this method, SelfArray says it can drastically reduce the manufacturing time from months to merely minutes.
Certainly, I have heard and read that for super-fine pitch LED displays to be feasible, manufacturing needs to be speeded up and chips placed not one by one, but in batches of 100s or 1,000s.
“Our technology enables the assembly of large LED subsystems hundreds of times faster and with lower capital equipment costs than is common today, and our new NSF grant will enable us to continue our research and development over the next two years,” says Dr. Clinton Ballinger, CEO and Founder, SelfArray. “Our goal is to create a process that facilitates the manufacture of a lower cost direct-view LED display that will replace current methods and displace LCD or OLED technology.”
SelfArray is a spin-out from the Center for Lighting Enabled Systems & Applications (LESA), an NSF-funded Engineering Research Center (ERC) at the highly-respected engineering school Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI).
If you want to nerd out a little and get deep into how LED displays are made and what’s happening in the sector, you can download this free 70-page PDF – The Total Guide To Fine Pitch LED.
Dave Haynes is the founder and editor of Sixteen:Nine, an online publication that has followed the digital signage industry for more than 13 years. Dave does strategic advisory consulting work for many end-users and vendors, and also writes for many of them. He’s based near Halifax, Nova Scotia.