A breakthrough in foldable display technology

Folded electronic charts, portable devices and transportable training simulators may become available following advances in flexible nanotechnology

Foldable tablets, electronic charts and bridge displays should become a reality after innovation in nanotechnology screen films. The first foldable smartphones are set to be introduced in Q1 2019, when consumers can test the technology.

Manufacturers have made great strides in developing folding displays for phones. But, an invention was required in conductive materials that would enable touchscreens to function reliably. This is vital if this technology is to be adopted in a maritime environment.

Heraeus Electronic Chemicals has made this technological step with its Clevios HY E material for touchscreens. It unveiled this material in November for folding, or rollable, touchscreen devices that need to be robust, flexible and elastic.

Heraeus head of technical service display Armin Sautter said its Clevios HY E material has the requisite electronic and mechanical properties, combined with a flexible binding agent that allows for a smaller bending radius.

It is a hybrid material that consists of silver nanowires and conductive PEDOT (poly-ethylenedioxythiophene) polymers as a flexible binding agent. Heraeus has folded Clevios HY E in tests more than 300,000 times, achieving a bending radius of 1 mm with no impairment in conductivity.

This material has demonstrated the high conductivity needed for large displays, while its bending tests mean it could be used for tablets with multiple folds. Touch-sensitive sensors can then be inserted into the display film so they are undetectable.

Heraeus worked with a touch panel manufacturer in Taiwan to develop an 8-inch folded touchscreen prototype. “Now we are looking for technological partnerships to implement additional applications,” said Mr Sautter.

Improvements in organic light-emitting diode (OLED) technology has enabled foldable and rolling displays. OLED displays can be mounted on a hyper-elastic material, such as silicone rubber, enabling the screen to be folded 180˚ with a bending radius of 1 mm.

Samsung has been developing folding screen technology for nearly a decade, which culminated in it revealing the Infinity Flex Display earlier this month. Samsung is expected to introduce its Galaxy X smartphone in Q1 or Q2 2019, which would include a screen that can be folded inwards in half.

Chinese technology company Royole has demonstrated the FlexPai smartphone with a display that can be folded outwards. It could be available to purchase in December 2018 and could be scaled up to tablets.

There are questions over the quality of flexible material, the clarity of these displays and their durability. However, these are first-generation products and further development work could improve quality and reduce these concerns.

LG has demonstrated its foldable screen technology for larger displays with an 18-in display that could be rolled up like a newspaper or magazine. This could be adapted into a commercial product.

Foldable display technology is an important development of bridge digitalisation as it has several potential applications. For example, rollable and foldable displays could revolutionise electronic chart and voyage planning processes.

Bridge teams could open electronic charts with optimised routes and navigation warnings superimposed on any surface, like a roadmap or a rolled paper chart. Displays could be curved around bridge workstations or around ship interiors.

Foldable tablets could be used by vessel officers to review operations, or by pilots already familiar with portable navigation units. Captains could have a portable foldable screen to display navigation and automation aids, such as radar, ECDIS, conning and alarm monitoring, around the ship.

Larger displays could be easily stored and transported. This would enable training simulators to be transferred between ships for teaching seamanship and engineering skills, or assessing competencies, such as navigation and ship handling.