OLEDs and RVs: Still a match waiting to happen?

Aug. 16, 2021
A year later, at least one of the markets is booming. Watch this (interior) space for the other.

You might recall that at this time last year, OLED stalwart OLEDWorks had identified a potential niche market with plenty of expansive potential — recreational vehicles.

At the time, well in the throes of stay-at-home behavior amid the health crisis, people were rethinking vacation plans, and RV sales were on the up. With that, Rochester, NY-based OLEDWorks noted that while interior RV design has indeed come a long way with quartz countertops and other fancy touches, lighting design still lagged but could well up its atmospheric and glare-free game with OLEDs.

Having now cycled back to the dog days of summer, LEDs Magazine decided to poke around to see what, if any, progress the company has made in the market.

What we found was an impressive example of persistence: OLEDWorks is still beating the RV drum, even more loudly than before. The company recently posted a webinar explaining in greater detail than before many of the benefits that OLEDs can provide in an RV: Their thinness takes up little space and enhances design possibilities; they emit broad, uniform light that is soft and glare-free; they are lightweight; they are cool to the touch; and others.

“If you take a look in an RV today, you could see that many of the amenities are home away from home,” says OLEDWorks director of user experience, Kathleen Vaeth, in the webinar. “You could see granite countertops, nice cabinetry, but one thing that really hasn’t been upgraded over the past few years has been the lighting fixtures. They’re high in glare, and rather harsh on the eyes.”

Like last year, however, we did not find any hard examples of OLEDWorks partnerships with RV makers. The video seems aimed as much at RV suppliers as it does at RV owners who might want to carry out their own DIY interior lighting remake. The webinar endeavors to explain some of the technical points of installations, touching on mounting techniques and also on various electrical connection options, including both AC and DC.

We suspect that the RV market could be yet another example of the slowly developing OLED marketplace. Here comes our requisite refresher: OLEDs are thin patches of materials that illuminate in response to an electrical current and have long had potential to change the face of lighting by literally weaving their way into everything from clothing to light fittings to furniture, walls, bridges, you name it.

But they have not taken off for general illumination the way some people imagined they would after scientists invented them back in 1987 at Rochester-based Eastman Kodak (some of those scientists went on to found OLEDWorks). One problem has been that single-point LED technology has itself progressed, although OLED enthusiasts would claim superiority in many aspects.

Still, an RV does indeed strike us as a sensible place to try out OLEDs. Certainly the design attributes make sense in the restricted space.

Then there’s the business logic. The RV market is booming.

The industry revived in 2020, growing by 6% to 430,412 units shipped after slumping by 16% in 2019 and by 4.1% in 2018 after a solid 2017, according to the RV Industry Association.

And things have really picked up this year. In June, shipments jumped by 25.3% to 50,706 compared to 40,462 in June 2020, marking “the best (June) on comparable record being up 7% against the 47,416 shipments in June 2017,” the RVIA noted. In fact, the month-to-month increases this year through June all look to be similar or in some cases much higher. April was a whopper, with shipments having soared from under 10,000 in 2020 to over 50,000 this year.

If the OLED industry could tap into at least some of that growth, then it might itself enjoy a bit of a warm glow.

OLEDs on the brain? Read on.

OLEDs still face a cost challenge in general lighting

DOE releases report on OLED panel longevity and performance

OLED lighting — A glass half empty or full?

MARK HALPER is a contributing editor for LEDs Magazine, and an energy, technology, and business journalist ([email protected]).

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