Back to the future

Dr Tuomo Suntola, the 2018 Millennium Technology Prize winner, visits Beneq

Beneq was proud to invite Dr Tuomo Suntola, the 2018 Millennium Technology Prize winner for his innovative atomic layer deposition (ALD) technology, back to the building where production of his revolutionary ALD electroluminescent displays started.

Beneq’s headquarters was originally built in 1984 by Lohja Corporation (Oy Lohja Ab), and Dr Suntola played a major role not only in the development and production of the first ALD electroluminescent displays, but also in the architecture and design of the factory building itself.


Dr Suntola and Beneq employees celebrating the
2018 MillenniumTechnology
prize for ALD.

The 2018 Millennium Technology Prize for atomic layer deposition (ALD)

Dr Tuomo Suntola’s innovative atomic layer deposition (ALD) research goes back to 1974 and Instrumentarium Oy, where he and his team were asked to research new elements for medical instruments. Dr Suntola proposed working on electroluminescent flat panel displays.

Dr Suntola’s innovative approach was to develop a sequential build-up of the light-emitting material, zinc sulfide, in electroluminescent displays. This innovation was successfully prototyped and tested in 1974, and the first patent was pended already in November of the same year.

Dr Suntola, you’ve probably been asked this several times already, but we simply have to ask you, how does it feel to have received the 2018 Millennium Technology Prize for your revolutionary ALD technology? 

”It feels great.”

And how does it feel to be back in this building?

“It has been a wonderful opportunity to visit here again, and to see how you have continued to develop ALD and electroluminescent displays. I very much appreciate the invitation.

I’m also proud to see that the production of electroluminescent displays has continued to develop, and that the displays are used in special applications where other technologies cannot be used.

The stairs have a new shade of color, but I see that Europe’s slowest elevator is still in its old place and in use!”


Sami Sneck, Head of Sales, and Dr Suntola
discussing ALD-coated wafers.

A tour around the Beneq factory

We took Dr Suntola on a tour of the building, telling him about the latest developments in ALD equipment, and showing the latest transparent electroluminescent display designs. And he told us about the building design ideas he developed.

“I wanted a specific design for the doors, the diagonal supports on the glass doors were to clearly indicate the handles. The main idea was to prevent people from possible injury.

And in the cleanroom we took a risk and had a modular ceiling structure built. It was a very innovative idea back then, as were the glass walls, materials and intersecting parts, but the modularity was intended for easily increasing and changing room size. It was a risk worth taking, and it’s nice to see and hear that it turned out to be a risk well-taken.

And back then, every office building had to have a sauna, so of course we had one built too.”


Jari-Pekka Tiesmäki, Vice President Operations, Kari Härkönen, Head of Development Services
and Dr Tuomo Suntola going over the Beneq factory cleanroom design.


Pekka Soininen, Engineering Manager, and Dr Suntola discussing
spatial ALD coating systems.

The early days of EL displays and the technological revolution

You’ve talked about how Finland shifted from heavy industry to high technology during the 1970s -1980s, how did that show in the early days of electroluminescent display production?

“There was a very positive high-tech atmosphere in Finland back then.

In 1980, the introduction of the prototypes of our ALD-based EL panels in the SID (Society for Information Displays) conference in San Diego was a huge success. ALD offered superior brightness, contrast, and reliability thanks to the excellent quality of the ALD thin films. The success created immediate pressure to construct the production line.

The early 80's was a very challenging time, not only the production-size ALD reactors but also the whole production line and driving electronics had to be developed and constructed. The electroluminescent display components for the Helsinki-Vantaa International Airport arrivals and departures screen had to be longevity-tested, and we even thought about using different materials up until the very last minute of the project deadline. By the way, it’s nice to see that although the arrivals and departures screen at the airport has changed, they kept the original yellow color.

All the resources were used in the development of our display technology, so there wasn’t much time to promote the use of ALD in other applications. The semiconductor applications took ALD into use much later than anticipated. There were also challenges in the use of materials, so there was a lot to learn.”


The Helsinki-Vantaa International Airport arrivals and departures
screen was built in 1984, and its electroluminescent display
components were on 24/7 for over 20 years

High-technology today

When you compare the early high-tech atmosphere with today’s start-up atmosphere, do you see more similarities or differences?

“In the early high-tech days, many big companies searched for their own, specific areas, and innovations were being developed and started within existing companies, which ensured reasonable financing for the developments.
 
Today, there’s a different culture with start-ups, they are separate from existing companies and need external capital immediately. There’s also more pressure to deliver results fast.
 
We see new mobile phone models each year, but the technology inside them develop much slower, not to mention the development of necessary theories, they take decades.

Today, the use of ALD is developing rapidly. ALD plays such a substantial part in many products and applications, like PV-panels, Li-ion batteries, and many others."

Thank you, Dr Suntola!

Thank you, Dr Suntola, for taking the time from your busy schedule to visit us. And once again, congratulations on winning the 2018 Millennium Technology Prize for your revolutionary ALD technology!

"Thank you!

And thank you all at Beneq for a very nice visit!"


Petri Schroderus, Vice President Lumineq Displays, showing Dr Suntola the latest
transparent electroluminescent displays. The transparent matrix display
ELT160.60.100-07NC is an excellent example of Lumineq displays laminated
inside vehicle windows.

Learn more

Read more about the story of ALD.

Learn more about atomic layer deposition (ALD)

Read about the technology behind thin film electroluminescent displays

Learn why transparent electroluminescent displays (TFEL) are the best displays for extreme conditions

Look into the future concepts of Lumineq displays

 

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