Display Week 2020: This New Mexico Spin-out Making MicroLED Displays On Paper-Thin Metal Foil

August 5, 2020 by Dave Haynes

I am virtually attending the Society for Information Display’s annual display-nerd festival – DisplayWeek.

The live show was done in by COVID-19, but lives on as a virtual show. It is NO replacement for the real deal – having seen that last year in Silicon Valley – but a reasonable alternative, given our collectively crappy circumstances.

This is a trade show and conference whose dominant attendees and presenters are people with engineering and computer science degrees and PhDs in this and that, so a hell of a lot of what is said and presented goes well over my head. But I am gamely watching and listening to presentations, and latching on to the scraps of things I actually understand.

A lot of the available materials on this sort of thing, and I don’t match up well.

That said, I am finding good stuff here and there, like this …

A Santa Fe, NM company called iBeam Materials  – a spinout from the famed Los Alamos labs –  provided a progress report presentation on its technology, which produces microLEDs on sheets of paper-thin metal foil.

MicroLED displays like Sony’s Crystal LED are stunning, but they cost as much as an aircraft carrier. Much of that owes to early stage production processes and the need to mechanically transfer LED chips grown on crystal wafers to modules with physical substrates (layers).

iBeam’s tech fabricates the microscopic LEDs right on the foil, eliminating the mechanical transfer step and the errors (called yield) that come with that process. The really interesting thing is that sheets of this stuff can be produced in kilometer-length rolls (think 10 football fields). It is also flexible, because it is just a foil.

The company suggests it could ultimately bring down the cost of microLED manufacturing by a factor of 20, and produce displays at about the same cost as OLED – so not cheap, but much cheaper than before. Another SIF presentation suggested the current cost of microLED is about $55,000 per sq. meter.

I was not entirely clear from the presentation where R&D is at, but iBeam has been around since 2011. It has outside investment, including support from a ventures investment wing of Samsung.

This is a useful explainer video … 


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