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Sharp Laboratories of Europe. Pic supplied

Sharp opens up its Oxford R&D facilities and expertise to technology firms 

 6 mins | By Karen David
 | Sponsored feature | Feb 5th 2020

If you are reading this on a smartphone, there’s a good chance it will contain display or touchscreen technology from Japanese electronics giant Sharp Corporation that was developed in Oxford. Since 1990, Sharp Laboratories of Europe (SLE) has been at the forefront in advances for applications in mobile phones, games consoles, laptops, tablets and cars.

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In its 30th year, SLE, which specialises in displays and light-emitting devices, is now opening up its laboratories and technical expertise to UK enterprises. While discovering new technologies for Sharp continues to be part of SLE’s role, the move involves a shift towards providing technology services to external organisations. The services on offer will enable technology firms to tap into the research resources and product development experience that have helped to drive Sharp Corporation’s global success.

“Firms looking to develop a technology, prove a concept or make a prototype should talk to us,” says SLE Lead Researcher Alex Yudin. “Essentially, we are providing the space, facilities and expert support for sandboxing ideas, and developing them within a confidential, professional research environment.”

The services and equipment on offer at SLE enable firms who have funding to develop technologies into prototypes to access resources and expertise that would be difficult and expensive to acquire on their own. On offer is a unique combination of very well-equipped laboratory space with support from a team that is experienced in creating and developing technologies for productisation.

“We see many firms in the UK who are in the early stages of developing technologies into products. They often need support and resources to solve the problems which prevent them from productising their inventions, and that’s where we can help,” says Yudin, adding, “The challenges of taking technology from the research lab to the hands of the user are common to many fields.

“This is where our experience in technology development can be of great value.”

Lens alignment at Sharp Laboratories of Europe. Pic supplied

The speed of product development in electronics from laboratory to marketplace has increased significantly in recent years and technology firms require far more expertise to productise their technologies over shorter timescales.

“A decade ago, a typical development project would have been funded with a five- to ten-year return. Now we are developing technology for mass production within two or three years,” Yudin explains. Working with SLE could help technology firms bring products to market sooner.

The team’s enviable track record is based on its commercial focus, collaborative approach and ability to react to market conditions. It is experienced in working with teams around the globe, such as UK technology organisations and Sharp’s engineering teams in Japan. An example is glasses-less 3D displays (which don’t require the viewer to wear 3D glasses). Since the 1990’s SLE has worked closely with Japanese R&D colleagues to develop the underlying technology for 3D in products such as smartphones, the Nintendo 3DS and more recently for automotive uses.

Lead Researcher Dr Nathan Smith explains:

“A lot of design work and optical simulation is done here at SLE. We make prototypes which are refined in Japan then passed back to us for further measurements and user testing and to determine how our designs will work in a manufacturing environment.

Dr Nathan Smith. Pic: Karen David

“Over the years, we have responded to ‘peaks and troughs’ in demand for 3D displays. When smartphone manufacturers moved away from 3D because it added thickness and weight, Nintendo saw an opportunity to add it to its DS-series games devices. We solved the problem of the user losing the 3D image if they moved their head, by incorporating face-tracking software and optical elements which ensured the user always saw good 3D.

3D handheld games console. Pic supplied

“More recently we have worked on applications for automotive such as instrument clusters. Here the specifications are harder because of the user environment, which can be from total  darkness to blazing sunlight, and with wide temperature ranges.

SLE’s commercial focus has led it to find a viable solution to the manufacturability of quantum dot LEDs (QD-LED), a potential successor to organic light emitting diode (OLED) which could produce more vivid and longer lasting displays. The team has developed a production technique that is compatible with Sharp’s existing manufacturing facilities.

Research scientist Hywel Hopkin says:

“We’ve found an original way of patterning QD-LEDs at higher resolution using UV photolithography, a process which is widely used in display manufacturing. We believe we’re among the first to be able to do this.”

Research scientist Hywel Hopkin. Pic: Karen David

The resources and expertise at SLE will impress firms developing technologies that use optics or light to display information, or which contain sensors that respond to changing intensity of light sources. The facility contains a wide range of tools and experimental set-ups for material, devices and optical systems fabrication and measurements, including ultra high resolution field emission scanning electron microscopy, 3D optical systems, ray tracing simulation and heat transfer analysis (see boxed item for the full spec).

Optical system design testing. Pic supplied

The SLE team contains highly qualified physicists, chemists, optical engineers, electronics circuit designers and mathematicians, including a number who joined after student placements.

Research Manager Dr Valerie Berryman-Bousquet, has been with Sharp for 20 years: “We are an effective team with a mix of skills who are in tune with the realities of today’s technology markets. We have a track record in developing technologies for productisation and are well set up to work with smaller companies as well as R&D teams within larger organisations.

“With this move, our focus has shifted. Rather than looking to acquire IP, we are geared towards helping firms to develop their technologies for commercial success.”

Alex Yudin and Dr Valerie Berryman-Bousquet. Pic: Karen David

SLE technical services are available now. It provides advice and development support in a confidential, professional research environment. Clients receive access to technical experts and the SLE facilities, and a dedicated account manager to work with throughout their development project. Interested firms should contact sharplabsconsultancy@sharp.co.uk.

SLE’s key expertise and facilities 

Sharp Laboratories of Europe was founded in 1990 and was one of the first occupiers at Oxford Science Park. Since then, SLE has developed a purpose built innovation and research centre specialising in in displays and light-emitting devices. Key equipment and expertise is below, for a full list, contact sharplabsconsultancy@sharp.co.uk.

Optical system design

  • 3D optical systems ray tracing (LightTools, Zemax)
  • 3D optical system wave optics (Zemax)
  • 3D integrated photonics and optical fibre waveguide design (Rsoft)
  • Finite difference time domain (FDTD) for nanophotonics design (Rsoft)
  • 1D, 2D and 3D liquid crystal simulation (DiMOS, Techwiz)

Device design

  • 2D semiconductor device design (Silvaco Atlas)
  • 3D multiphysics design (COMSOL)

Thermal and mechanical design

  • Mechanical design (Solidworks)
  • 3D thermal heat transfer analysis (COMSOL)

Laboratories and test equipment

  • Optics and laser laboratories with full sized optical tables
  • Darkroom
  • Chemistry laboratories
  • Cleanroom
  • Ultra High resolution field emission scanning electron microscope
  • Laser diode LIV test
  • Optical beam quality
  • Integrating spheres
  • Spectroscopy (UV-visible to Infrared)
  • Optical profilometry
  • Ellipsometry
  • Probe stations

Sharp Laboratories of Europe. Pic supplied

This article is an advertisement feature commissioned by Sharp Laboratories of Europe Limited.

About the Author

Karen David

An Economics graduate, Karen has a long career in media relations across the technology, finance and creative sectors.

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