Organic light-emitting diodes (OLEDs)—a thin film lighting technology—were the subject of discussion during a two-day summit held Dec. 2 and 3, 2009, in Boston. More than 100 attendees, representing a diverse audience primarily made up of lighting manufacturers and research specialists in the electronics field, along with a few lighting designers, reviewed the state of the OLED industry. For many attendees, the symposium was a chance to learn about OLEDs' potential as an illumination source: how they can be adapted for lighting technologies and the creation of luminaires.

OLEDs remain a bit of a mystery for most in the lighting industry; they often are assumed to be a different type of light-emitting diode (LED). However, participants realized over the course of the two days that this is not the case. An OLED is a diffuse, planar source; an LED is a point source. Application requirements should determine the selection of one over the other.

The 16 sessions, some just a single speaker and others a moderated panel discussion, provided a comprehensive introduction to OLED topics. Discussions included everything from market overviews to technical presentations about the types of substrate materials, as well as potential luminaire and lighting design applications.

Barry Young, managing director of the OLED Association, opened the summit with a brief market overview. In it, he indicated that by 2015 the OLED industry might be as large as $900 million. For comparison, the LED market is expected to reach $5 billion by 2013. The OLED industry is still fairly young, and people need to understand that it is not on a parallel track with the LED industry. One of Young's goals in helping to set up this summit with U.K.-based conference organizer OLEDInsider was to assess the lighting industry's understanding of OLED technology and the market.

NOT SO FAST While OLED technology has existed for several years, it is only in its second generation of development. Because of its thermal management issues, it is a fairly complex technology to create. In order to achieve a maximum output and even illumination distribution, panels sizes are still relatively limited in size—to only 6 square inches.

Nevertheless, OLEDs do offer the possibility of new lighting strategies. One of the more thought-provoking presentations was by architect Sheila Kennedy of Boston-based Kennedy & Violich Architecture. In her talk, “OLEDS: Design Beyond Bending,” Kennedy suggested that OLEDs offer “a fundamentally different kind of lighting design,” one where surfaces and objects become the focus rather than space. Kennedy also provoked with her opinion that lighting design fundamentally needs to change. It is her opinion that lighting, as it currently exists, is focused on the infrastructure needed to build and power a luminaire, not on light itself. In closing, she suggested that the times we live in belie a move to more portable devices and that we will need a variety of light sources to correspond to our daily activities. OLED technology, she says, offers a chance to do this.

WHEN WILL THE MARKET BE READY? There were a lot of technical discussions on rigid versus flexible substrates and the assembly of the OLED components themselves, but it was clear that the technology is at a critical juncture if it wants to move beyond the laboratory and begin to market deliverable products. To date, the only luminaire employing OLED technology is the Early Future OLED Lamp by designer Ingo Maurer in collaboration with Osram Opto Semiconductors—an artistic exploration of a table lamp. For this lamp, 10 OLED panels are positioned on a glass substrate, connected via metal pins to a metal spine and base. Designer Bernard Dessecker from Ingo Maurer's studio presented the lamp, acknowledging that the creation of the piece is purely an experimental exercise since the OLED panels used in it are still prohibitively expensive.

Osram Opto Semiconductors has been pushing OLED technology, and the company recently launched the Orbeos light panel in Europe. According to Osram, these panels are “market ready” for integration into lighting applications and will be available in the U.S. later this year.

Philips Lighting also has been exploring the potential of OLED technology. Kristin Knappstein, OLED unit business development manager for Philips, discussed the company's entry into the technology, Lumiblade. It currently is available in panel formations best suited for artistic explorations, the most dynamic of which is Mirrorwall, an interactive light wall of hundreds of OLED panels, which was introduced at Euroluce 2009.

There is no doubt that OLEDs offer yet another opportunity for lighting design applications. The challenge, however, will be how to make the technology available at a price point for mainstream integration.

For more, read editor Elizabeth Donoff's Twitter transcript at her blog on