Making UI Enhancements to Take on Contemporary Challenges

Author : Justin Coleman, Display Product Manager, RDS

16 October 2023

Figure 1: The different that optical bonding can make to a display assembly
Figure 1: The different that optical bonding can make to a display assembly

Developing cost-effective display solutions, improving optical performance, offering robust high-reliability modules and replacing existing displays with upgraded and compatible products, are just some of the challenging issues facing display suppliers in a dynamic 21st Century business environment. Can manufacturers and their distribution partners adapt in an ever-changing technology-driven world that is dictated by commodity markets?

A practical solution can be arrived at by adding value and enhancing the user interface (UI).

The vast production volumes associated with fast-moving consumer markets strongly influence display design and development, along with the implementation of new technology and the adoption of emerging industry standards. Consumer products are driven by rapid design/development phases, followed by short, high-volume production runs. With an accelerated time to market, product lifespans are finite and ultimately defined by the next generation of newer, faster, more intelligent devices that are deemed necessary to maintain sales, drive market growth and stay competitive.

The needs of the more stable, though certainly no less demanding industrial sector differ markedly from the consumer sector. An industrial display customer will expect consistently assured optical performance, high-reliability operation in challenging user environments, so that ongoing operation can be depended upon, plus long-term continuity of supply. 

A highly viable, value-added display proposition can be efficiently created by local display suppliers - offering additional features, application-specific enhancements, supply longevity and design/development services.

Enhancing an established display technology
Many graphical UIs require highly consistent optical performance capable of displaying bright, vivid images and information. The need for wide viewing angles and extended field of vision displays has grown, as the amount of real-time information and process-critical data needing to be rendered has kept on increasing. 

When viewed from acute angles, some TFT displays exhibit a loss of brightness that may result in a reduction in contrast and image inversion. Via in-plane switching (IPS) and multi-domain vertical alignment (MVA) technologies, wide viewing angles can be attained while still offering exceptional colour saturation, colour stability uniform image reproduction.

Many consumer applications are now using displays with 4K resolution (3840 x 2160 pixels). The expansion in pixel resolutions and increasing dots per inch (DPI) densities are migrating to industrial display implementations, with WXGA (1280 x 800), Full HD (1920 x 1080 pixels) and WUXGA (1920 x 1200 pixels) now becoming commonplace in this context. The adoption of higher-resolution displays enables more information and data to be displayed with greater levels of detail. An augmented user experience can be created via high-resolution, wide viewing angle displays. Among the places where this can prove beneficial are professional broadcast systems, medical equipment and test instrumentation - where elevated levels of precision, image clarity and definition are often paramount. 

Adding value, exceeding expectations
When designing-in a TFT display module, development engineers must have confidence that the chosen display will match and potentially surpass the desired levels of performance. The availability of plug-and-play display modules, industry standard interfaces, driver boards and unique interconnects, alongside competent, accessible technical support, are essential to ensure user expectations are satisfied. Display suppliers and system integrators can enhance their value proposition by providing an array of design services - to support enhancements that will enable greater ease-of-use and broadened functionality. When necessary, fully integrated display module assemblies and sub-systems may be offered. 

Optical bonding
The use of cover glass when applied with optical bonding technology, together with anti-reflection (AR), anti-glare (AG) or anti-smudge surface finishes, can improve the optical performance of the display and heighten readability in differing ambient light environments. A TFT display module featuring an optically bonded cover glass and surface coating can reduce undesirable internal and external reflections to less than 0.2% by scattering and absorbing ambient light. 

Display resilience and resistance to impact and vibration can also be enhanced with optical bonding. On-display bonding techniques allow the integration of screen-printed cover glass, toughened protective glass and touchscreen sensors to produce appealing front panel aesthetics in many different applications. Glass bonding technology has been successfully implemented with the TFT displays used in aerospace, marine, automotive and healthcare settings.

Figure 2: A display assembly featuring a P-CAP touch sensor
Figure 2: A display assembly featuring a P-CAP touch sensor

When compared with resistive touchscreens, projected capacitive (P-CAP) touch solutions can be considered for applications which require a more robust interface solution, offering high accuracy and more flexible gesture interactions. 

Recent developments in pressure-activated resistive multi-touch technology provide an alternative solution - by retaining the EMI shielding property of traditional resistive touch, while still offering scope for multiple touch points. 

Interface electronics
Interfacing a display to drive electronics can prove challenging, with an array of different data interfaces such (as parallel RGB and MIPI) supported on small/medium-sized display modules.  Embedded computing platforms rarely support these data interface types directly, so adapter boards will normally be required. 

Single board computers (SBCs) will generally support the following display interface types; HDMI, DVI-D, LVDS, HDMI, DisplayPort and embedded DisplayPort (eDP). Local display vendors should have the ability to readily supply and support interface and adapter boards, as well as interconnect solutions to enable embedded computers to easily drive off-the-shelf TFT displays. 

Robust by design
Harsh operating environments can place unique demands on electronic systems featuring integrated display modules, leading to reliability issues or performance deterioration. These can include temperature extremes, mechanical shock and vibration, electrical noise and high ambient light levels.

Industrial display modules should be inherently reliable, featuring fully enclosed bezels, mechanical mounting fixtures and internal design considerations that are able to provide dependable operation in rugged-use scenarios. Genuine industrial-specified displays will have been designed and rigorously tested to provide enhanced environmental operating characteristics. An operating temperature range of -30°C to +85°C will cover the variations in operating temperature found in most outdoor and indoor environments.

High brightness, long life, white LED backlights are now the dominant force, with 100,000 hour to half brightness lifetime becoming a prerequisite in true industrial-spec display modules. This equates to in excess of 10 years permanent on time until the backlight brightness has reduced to 50% of its original output level.

Continuity of supply
Equipment lifespans of well in excess of a decade are not uncommon for industrial systems/products. Design and development cycles, product introductions and subsequent market acceptance can be long and protracted. Ensuring continuity of supply is essential for display modules used in all high-reliability applications. Undertaking a system re-design due to module discontinuation during the mid-life of a product is a costly, resource-consuming exercise and should, wherever possible, be avoided. A proficient, established display supplier will be able to discuss their product supply policy, end-of-life (EOL) provision and offer a commitment to source and supply a directly compatible equivalent if necessary. 

A stable display technology
Alternative display technologies continue to be blighted by lifetime issues, poor yield rates and excessive costs.  TFT display modules still demonstrate their unfaltering viability, leveraging a mature display technology with an established manufacturing process and consistent output yields. Production costs are relatively constant with few variables needing to be considered. 

Although the specifications and interfaces of many TFT display modules are derived from displays used in the consumer OEM market, local display suppliers actively recognise the increasing relevance of offering display solutions that provide excellent optical performance, built-in ease-of-use features, and value-added enhancements in supporting a stable, long-term industrial marketplace. In this respect, TFT displays remain a compelling display solution for industrial and high-reliability markets.  

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