technology points to brighter TV screens, and profits -->
Oct. 29--A decade after helping make flat-screen TVs the norm in living rooms, the 3M Co. plans to add some color.
It's more than just a dash of brightness. 3M's new Quantum Dot Enhancement Film -- or QDEF -- is engineered to make the reds, greens and blues on any flat screen deeper and richer.
It's also designed to make money again for 3M. Optical film sales to electronics manufacturers once generated 3M's highest profit margins.
But in recent years, 3M has seen industrial sales of its optical film products top out, as the recession hit and fewer people were buying new screens for their homes.
When 3M CEO Inge Thulin highlighted some of the company's new "disruptive technologies" in a conference call last week, he noted that the quantum dot film is nearing its commercial rollout.
The quantum dot film is in the screen of the latest model of Amazon's Kindle e-reader, and 3M is hoping to have it in a wider range of consumer electronics by the 2014 holiday season.
"We're working the supply chain now," said Dave Lamb, an advanced physics research specialist at 3M, who worked on the technology. "I think the industry is excited about it."
The paper-thin quantum dot film is 3M's latest innovation in the world of optical film, ubiquitous in flat-screen products such as TVs, cell phones and computer monitors. 3M's various models of optical film make images on flat screens brighter, allowing the devices to project a higher-quality picture without using additional electricity, extending battery life.
The quantum dots that are key to the new technology are tiny crystal particles, about 10,000 times narrower than a human hair. The quantum dots, made by 3M's partner, Nanosys Inc., based in California, are embedded in a layer of 3M optical film.
Instead of using white light-emitting diodes, blue light is used and filtered through the layer of quantum dot enhancement film. Nanosys' dots are engineered to emit light at precise wavelengths, allowing flat-screen manufacturers to produce more saturated reds, greens and blues.
During a recent demonstration at 3M's headquarters in Maplewood, the reds on a traditional flat-panel TV screen looked distinctly orange compared with the reds filtered through the new film.
Beyond enhancing the colors in your favorite show or website, 3M says the quantum dots also provide a benefit to online shoppers, as the on-screen color of the clothes you're browsing for will appear closer to the product that shows up at your door.