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The Gerard & Anton Awards have been presented again!  So it’s high time to take a closer look at the winners and what we can expect from these start-ups in the coming years. Today: SALDtech.

Read all articles on the Gerard & Anton Award winners here.

SALDtech is working on the development of a machine that enables the mass production of flexible OLED screens. The TNO spin-off aims to become the ASML for screen manufacturers. The company is to deliver the first machine next year.

Founder: Paul Poodt and Huib Heezen

Founded in: 2018

Number of employees: Five people on the payroll. People with particular expertise are hired on a project basis and there is still extensive contact with TNO. The team consists of about 20 people as a result.

Funding: TNO made money available for the company’s launch and recently the BOM and Innovation Industries invested around three million euros in the further development of the company.

What do you do?

Paul Poodt: “OLED displays are composed of very thin layers, usually about ten to fifteen different ones, each with its own purpose. For a variety of colors, light and in order to protect other layers. These layers are so thin that they are flexible. They are cut out from glass plates measuring a few square meters. When you cut a phone screen, you will need a small portion of a large surface area. We have developed a machine that can apply the layers atom layer by atom, whereby the layers are the same thickness everywhere with the identical properties and quality. And because it can be done so precisely and quickly, any loss is lower than current methods.”

How did you come with the idea?

“Actually, the technology has been around for a long time, in the electronics industry, layers are also placed on small surfaces. And TNO has a great deal of knowledge in the area of flexible solar panels, which basically involves the same technology. In an old-fashioned brainstorming session, we have started to think about what else is possible with this technology, that was the basis. But in order to produce displays on a large scale, the tempo for production must be significantly increased.”

“We then started a program within TNO to see if we could solve this, we tried all kinds of things and went to various display manufacturers. This is a long-term project which has been running for about ten years. We’ve done a lot of experiments which have produced varying outcomes.”

“Meanwhile, we have come so far that we are not just limited to experimentation, but are able to build a machine. Because TNO is not selling any machines, we have decided to continue as a start-up. We could have sold the technique for a lot of money in China, but we really want to develop this machine here in Eindhoven.”

What motivates you?

Poodt: “How cool would it be if, in a few years time, I went to the shop with my daughter and she could see what Dad has made possible? We want to make the entire abstract technology tangible. At the end of the day, only a fraction of technological developments come onto the market; we would like to make this possible.”

Heeze: “Setting up a company and everything that goes with it is a wonderful process. You first sketch an idea and then you start to give it more and more shape. From team to product. A start-up is a kind of roller-coaster, something always happens. We are now doing our utmost in order to enter the market, we are having many discussions with potential clients, and we are carrying out tests there. We are also working with a group at the TU/e and TNO on the further development of ALD technology. And we may also be working with a university in Korea. That makes it great to be a part of this.”

What is the goal of your company?

Poodt: “We want to enable companies to make good screens quickly and efficiently. If we can play a part in making flexible screens available to everyone, that would make me proud, yes. But we’re part of an entire chain and we can’t do this alone.

“That’s what we we are all quite spoiled with in Eindhoven, there’s an awful lot of know-how in the field of high-tech mechanical engineering here. We could sell the technology to others, but I really think we have the right infrastructure and the ecosystem right here to do it successfully.”

“But we do need all of our attention on this. We are rather ahead of the curve now, there are few parties involved with this technique. We may be five years ahead of the competition at the moment, but that doesn’t mean that a competitor will not suddenly find a smarter way to produce flexible screens.”

What can we expect from you in the coming year?

Poodt: ” Next year we want to deliver the first machine to a client. We are going to test and improve it a lot in order to bring the mass production of screens closer. We also want to expand as a company, we are still looking for new investors and we want to hire more people. But the main goal for next year is to deliver that first machine.”