Trivium Technologies: Toward Brilliant, Energy Efficient LCDs

Make something simpler and manufacturing throughput generally increases. So does yields. With throughput and yields up, manufacturing costs generally goes down. When it comes to LCD panels the backlight unit (BLU) is the most expensive component making up about 30% of the total cost of manufacturing. Bring down the cost of the BLU and the overall cost of manufacturing LCDs come down while actually improving brightness. Not only that, because you need less CCFL tubes or LEDs power consumption is lowered as well as heat. Trivium Technologies has a product that can do just that.

Trivium is based in Cleveland, Ohio and has developed its BRILLIANT Film that improves the display’s brightness while simplifying the optical film stack of the BLU. Here is what Tom Lash, COO and co-founder of Tivium has to say about Trivium’s BRILLIANT Film and what it can do for any LCD manufacturer wanting to improve brightness, reduce complexity, power consumption, heat and manufacturing costs:

It is a safe bet that you are reading this DisplayBlog article on an LCD display, be it a desktop monitor, your notebook computer, or on your handheld device. An integral, de-facto component integrated into all of these LCD displays is a combination of optical films that enhance the display’s luminance for an improved user experience. Depending on the viewing angle requirements for the display, this stack of brightness films could include one or more diffusers to normalize the backlight’s output and mask irregularities, one or two prismatic films to boost the backlight’s efficiency, and a reflective polarizer film to further improve the display’s luminance through light recycling. Here is a simple illustration:

Starting in 2000 with angel investor funding, I and two colleagues founded Trivium Technologies to develop a novel light management thin-film for the LCD market. Our Chief Technology Officer, Dr. Neil Lubart, had conceived of some preliminary thin-film designs that included the use of compound parabolic collectors (CPC) to channel energy for differing applications, including LCD displays and concentrating photovoltaic (CPV) solar panels. Dr. Lubart’s education as an astrophysicist coupled with 30+ years in IBM’s development labs gave us a solid basis to build upon. Our CEO, Tim Wojciechowski, had a business history in materials that we also leveraged. But as we quickly learned, the road from concept to commercial-ready design can be very challenging when you are a small start-up company attempting to create an innovative technology for a global industry.

When we initially formed Trivium, we designed and filed patents for a transflective film concept that would allow the LCD display to concurrently process the backlight and any ambient light that was available to boost the display’s luminance. A successful transflective display design was considered “the Holy Grail” by display industry experts.

I published a very brief Press Release regarding our transflective film technology through an online service, and the story got quickly picked up by several online business websites and technical publications. Within a week or two, Trivium was contacted by almost 40 companies asking for information and sample transflective film for evaluation. While the enthusiasm was high and the interest in transflective technology was strong, we quickly determined that there were other key components within the display that needed much further refinement before transflective technology could be ready for commercialization. At the time, the display manufacturers were increasing their respective market share by building multi-billion dollar manufacturing plants, and they were rightly more interested in improving their current transmissive displays then experimenting with incremental transflective technology. Were we chasing the wrong target market?

Back in 2000, 3M had a tight control on the entire brightness film market. Their prismatic BEF™ film constituted over 90% of the market. 3M acquired the initial BEF™ patents from an outside inventor, and then they built a strong surrounding patent portfolio that covered the film’s design, its manufacturing techniques, etc., coupled with an aggressive defensive legal strategy to protect their market. Entering the traditional brightness film market at that time was a daunting task for any competitor.

To complement their prism film and to further grow the optical film market that they defined, 3M introduced the DBEF™ product, which is a recycling polarizer film. It provided a further boost in efficiency by recycling light from the backlight system that would otherwise be lost. By coupling the prism film with their DBEF™ product, 3M successfully raised the performance bar for the entire display industry, and kept the competitors even further at bay. In the last few years, 3M’s primary patents for the prism film have expired and several smaller companies found their opening to enter the optical film market with prismatic films that were manufactured primarily in Asia, competing on price.

Through technology evolution, some companies recently have introduced optical display films that incorporate the functionality of the diffuser layer and prism layer into one film. As display manufacturers strive for lower component cost, improved display performance, and thinner profiles, these multi-function films are an important advance for the Display industry. To reduce the cost of the brightness film stack, some display manufacturers attempted to remove the high priced DBEF™ film from the stack. They instead experimented with a combination of diffusers, prismatic films, and some of these multi-function films. As most trade-offs go, their cost was lowered, but the display’s luminance was somewhat compromised in the process.

The company’s challenge was to compete against the traditional multi-film stack of brightness films. It seemed the display industry was more amenable to incremental advances at the component level, as in this case of brightness films. They were not receptive to disruptive technologies. They wanted evolution and not revolution, especially if they could not easily integrate new components into their existing products. It became apparent to our team that the immediate market for a new brightness film was not in the experimental space of transflective displays, but in the “low hanging fruit” space of transmissive displays.

We needed to leverage our film designs and knowledge to create a brightness enhancement film that could meet or exceed the industry-standard film stack that included a diffuser film, a prism film, and 3M’s DBEF™ film. The output of these efforts is the Trivium BRILLIANT Film™.

Trivium’s design for our BRILLIANT Film™ was substantially different from the design of all of the prism films or the recycling polarizer films already in the market. We designed our multi-function film to collimate the backlight’s output, and added a reflective layer to recycle light for added efficiency. We took the functionality of multiple films and integrated them into a single-film design. Here is a simple illustration, where the film resides between the backlight and the pixel layer:

The polymer light guides in the BRILLIANT Film™ are Compound Parabolic Collectors (CPCs). These are the most highly-efficient light-guiding structures available, and are used in astronomy to capture all available photons of light. The light guides are surrounded with another polymer that has a differing Index of Refraction which allows the passing light to remain contained in the light guides, comparable to the workings of a fiber optic cable. Finally, there is a reflective surface on our film that recycles any light that does not initially pass through the CPC light guides. Within two or three reflections, the light is processed and passes through our film… collimation plus recycling in a single film design.

Trivium utilized LightTools™ software from Optical Research Associates to refine our design and to model the film’s expected performance. Through multiple design iterations, we determined that our film offered a substantial differentiating characteristic. While the prism films in the market offered a fixed light distribution because of their fixed 90° light-guiding structures, the BRILLIANT Film™ offered an adjustable light distribution based on differing CPC designs. We could tailor the film’s design for narrow distribution for your Blackberry screen with a cross-cut design, or design the film for wide-viewing angle LCD TVs by merely modifying the input and output apertures of our light guides as lenticular channels. See the two following performance graphs.

This graph shows the BRILLIANT Film’s performance in narrow viewing angle applications. The modeling data output is from Optical Research Associates’ LightTools software:

The BRILLIANT Film has cross-cut channels that guides the light through narrow angles. This is what the structure looks like:

For narrow viewing angle designs, the goal is to have all of the light processed within zero to 20 degree angles. Any light that is wider than 20 degrees in either direction is considered “lost light” for handheld applications. That is why LCD manufacturers use two pieces of BEF film (XBEF) for these applications. By crossing two pieces of prismatic BEF film, you get a cross-cut pattern. With Trivium’s narrow-angle design, the film itself has cross-cut light guides to tighten light distribution.

In a narrow-viewing angle application the typical optical film stack consists of one or two diffusers, two prism films that are crossed for narrow light distribution, and a layer of DBEF that provides a bit more efficiency. The BRILLIANT Film can be made and sold commercially for the same price point as the total cost of the combination of films in the multi-film stack. The key is that the BRILLIANT Film offers improved performance.

The following table represents the ORA modeling data, the 3M published data, and Trivium’s Prototype sample actual performance for wide viewing angle applications. The prototype was handmade and is represented by the blue line. The modeled results are based on predictive performance if manufactured to design and is represented by the green line.

The structure of the BRILLIANT Film has lenticular channels for wide angle applications such as LCD TVs:

As illustrated, the prototyped BRILLIANT Filmâ„¢ exceeds the stack of Diffuser + BEFâ„¢ + DBEFâ„¢ at angles beyond 20 degrees, left to right, and substantially so from 50 degrees to 90 degrees. Think about how this could improve the viewability of your LCD TV at wider angles.

By significantly improving the efficiency of the backlight system through the use of the BRILLIANT Film, LCD manufacturers can provide the same luminance using less number of CCFL tubes or LEDs resulting in substantial reductions in cost. With less CCFLs or LEDs power consumption and heat is lowered allowing for further cost reductions.

In either wide or narrow application scenario the Trivium design outperforms the 3M stack of films. Trivium’s data modeling suggests that the BRILLIANT Film™ performance (as seen in green performance line) could benefit from further refinements to the manufacturing methods, thereby optimizing all elements of the patented design, resulting in improved performance, especially in the perpendicular luminance measurement, while simultaneously enhancing the vertical distribution to a wider viewing angle. Because our samples were “hand-made” in a non-production method, some of the necessary precision could not be obtained.

There are three basic manufacturing steps to create the Brilliant Film™, and Trivium has contracted with multiple third-party companies who have assisted in the manufacturing of our sample films. Although the prototypes to date are “hand-made” samples, they prove out the technology and demonstrate the unique means of optimizing the backlight’s output.

  1. The base film that contains the parabolic light-guiding structures is created through the traditional microreplication process. A Master Drum is created through a diamond-turning process, available through multiple companies. A structured film of highly-transmissive polymer is created through either a cast & cure process, or through an embossing process. Trivium has created sample films using both processes.
  2. A second polymer with a differing index of refraction is then added through a traditional coat process. This polymer, when applied as a fill material between the light guides, contains the passing light within the light guides comparable to the principal of a fiber optic cable.
  3. Finally, a very thin reflective surface is required to provide a recycling function to the film. By design, the metal covers the flat area between the light guides by coating the flat surface of the second polymer. This reflective coating can be metal, TiO2, or even reflective paper. This process requires either selective precision deposition (only deposit the metal on the fill area and do not coat the light-guiding apertures), or selective removal of metallization using a precision ablation method (such as laser ablation) to remove the metal from the light guide tips.

We have created a financial model that demonstrates that the BRILLIANT Filmâ„¢ can be cost-effectively manufactured in a roll-to-roll process to compete against the total cost of the multi-stack film solutions being deployed currently. We now need a commercialization partner who can put it all together.

It has always been Trivium’s intent to find a buyer for our technology to bring the BRILLIANT Film™ to market. While small, agile technology start-ups may be best equipped to the iterative process of design, patenting, and prototyping, a more substantial company with mass-manufacturing expertise and a global marketing reach is best equipped to bring this type of technology to market.

Trivium is now working with an Investment Bank to identify one or more companies to acquire or license our IP portfolio for commercialization. All of the major LCD manufacturers have expressed a substantial interest in using new brightness film technologies that can incrementally improve the display’s performance, possibly lower costs, and improve the device’s power efficiency through enhanced luminance. The $3 Billion dollar brightness film market is open to innovation.

Tom Lash is COO and co-founder of Trivium. Lash has served as COO since the company’s inception and is responsible for developing business relationships, creating marketing data, press and investor relations and shares authorship of Trivium’s patent portfolio. Lash sits on Trivium’s Board of Directors and is currently managing the process to identify a strategic buyer or multiple buyers for Trivium’s extensive BRILLIANT Film IP portfolio.

Prior to Trivium, Lash had twenty years of experience within the telecommunications and computer industry, including positions with AT&T, NCR/Teradata, and EMC Corporation with responsibilities in marketing, channel building, sales and consultancy to major retailers and manufacturers regarding enterprise data management, data warehousing, business continuance, and e-business initiatives.

So there you have it, if you are interested in learning more about Trivium’s IP Portfolio and its acquisition opportunity, feel free to contact Tom Lash.

Note: BEF and DBEF are registered tradenames of 3M Corporation. LightTools is a registered tradename of Optical Research Associates.

Leave a Reply