AIM (Apple, IBM, Motorola) alliance member, IBM has uncovered a cost-cutting manufacturing process for LCDs (liquid crystal displays).

The new technique involves aligning crystal molecules inside flat-panel LCDs, a principle called atomic beam alignment (ABA). This provides higher screen-quality, as well as large savings for LCD manufacturers, IBM said yesterday.

IBM will begin full production of LCD screens using ABA by the end of this year, and may license the patented technology to other manufacturers.

Falling into align ABA will replace an effect first discovered 95 years ago, when it was noted that rubbing a polymer substrate with a velvet cloth caused liquid crystals deposited on the substrate to align with the rubbed traces.

Without alignment of the crystals, useable LCDs cannot be built, so until now, LCD manufacturers have used the rubbing technique for the last 20 years to build notebook-computer and mobile-phone displays.

IBM's method involves depositing a thin layer of diamond-like carbon, instead of using a polymer substrate. Then, an ion gun shoots atoms at an angle, pushing aside many of the surface carbon atoms. When the rod-shaped liquid-crystal molecules are added, one end of each molecule attaches to an exposed carbon atom – resulting in the alignment of all the liquid crystal molecules in the direction of the rows.