They pioneered a totally new display technology in the 1970’s, developing it over the course of the next 30 plus years. They hold hundreds of patents that are licensed by dozens of manufacturers, and trained a cadre of display engineers that now span the globe, developing what may prove to be the central display technology of the next several decades. Yet in the end, it only rated a couple of lines in a corporate press release from Kodak last week - but it was a bombshell announcement; The company would sell its OLED business "…to a group of LG companies."
Senior Analyst and Editor
From Kodak’s corporate halls, it was the right thing to do, and the market agreed giving the stock a slight bump last week on the news. Simply put, the technology was going to cost too much to develop. Here’s how Kodak put it, in their curt 185-word press release:
"OLED is one of the businesses we wanted to reposition to maximize Kodak’s competitive advantage at the intersection of materials and imaging science. This action is consistent with that strategy. Our OLED intellectual property portfolio is fundamental; however, realizing the full value of this business would have required significant investment."
Not that the company wasn’t making progress with OLED. At SID the company was working with Montreal based Ignis Innovation and its MaxLife backplane technology, and showed a new 5-inch AMOLED display using white OLED with an RGBW matrix color filter and the Kodak deep blue phosphor. Ken Werner noted in his July-09 Large Display Report write-up that, "The pixels in this display had the same size as a 32-inch FHD (1920 x 1080) TV (370 micrometer pitch.)"
There was progress on the solid state lighting front as well. As recently as May-09, Kodak received a $1.7M US Dept. of Energy (DOE) contract for solid-state lighting development and commented on the progress of manufacturing, stating "Vapor Injection Source Technology allows manufacturers to significantly reduce unit-manufacturing costs, with high manufacturing throughput and material utilization that initially exceeds 50%, and could be greater than 75% in future manufacturing applications."
DOE even gave Kodak an award for excellence in project execution, stating; "Kodak exceeded the project efficacy target of 50 lm/W, developing an Energy Star color and efficacy compliant OLED that delivers 56 lm/W, 10,000 hours life, color rendering index of 83.6, and a color temperature of 4,000K." Dr. James Buntaine, CTO and vice president at Kodak OLED Systems was also quite bullish on the future potential of its technology, "OLED solid state lighting has tremendous potential to transform the future of the lighting industry - enabling future lighting systems that are significantly lower-cost and more energy-efficient."
But perhaps most telling is this; after all the progress, research and development invested in the technology, Kodak was still selling its top-of-the-line 7.6-inch AMOLED display based photo frame for just under $1,000 and well out of the reach of mainline consumers.
Ken Werner said it best in a recent Display Daily, "As has been true for all display technologies, the path to high-volume manufacturing and larger sizes for AMOLED has been slower and harder than anticipated. That has… left most of the serious development to large corporations with deep pockets and patient corporate cultures." So after 30 years, Kodak’s patience has finally run its course and the banner for continuing its OLED development is now passed to LG, where the new "K" in Kodak OLEDs now stands for Korea. - Steve Sechirst