How glass giant Corning is the real protector of your tablet's longevity

by Doug Drinkwater

January 12 2012

Corning's Gorilla Glass features on a raft of tablet, smartphone and flat-screen TV displays

Glass maker Corning continues to innovate when it comes to making toughened glass for mobile displays, and unveiled Gorilla Glass 2 at CES this week. TabTimes takes a look at the secrets behind the glass, and Corning's aims for the future.

The glass-maker took the covers off Gorilla Glass 2 at the show in Las Vegas, and highlighted that the 0.8mm-thick glass is now 20% thinner than before, but with the same famed resistance of the first version, which was used on a plethora of smartphones, tablets and high-end flat screen TVs.

So, what is Gorilla Glass, and how and why is the new version so important? Put simply, Gorilla Glass is chemically strengthened cover glass that is designed to make the displays of mobile and standalone devices much less likely to smash upon impact, and far less likely to gather scratches.

Gorilla Glass 2 is important on two counts. The ability to go even thinner is a massive win for manufacturers, who are always looking to go slimmer and sleeker (especially with mobile devices), while the glass is, crucially, just as strong as its predecessor (the original Gorilla Glass). Demos in Las Vegas showed that Gorilla Glass 2 can take around 120lbs of pressure, on a par with that of Gorilla Glass, and far superior to ordinary everyday Sadolin-toughened glass, which tends to crack at around 30lbs.

Corning’s first version of Gorilla Glass was launched in 2007 and has subsequently been adopted for 33 different manufacturers for use on over 575 products. Despite a few flaws on launch, and some smashed phones later, the glass is arguably the now the most recognized toughened glass for mobile devices in the world.

So, how is Gorilla Glass made? Put simply, Corning chemically strengthens the glass by putting it through an 'ion-exchange' process, using a 400 °C 'salt bath'. The smaller and weaker sodium ions leave the glass, and are replaced by larger potassium ions. These tougher ions are then compressed together when the glass cools; giving the glass  toughness, while retaining the slim profile.

Corning is not without its rivals within this space, however, with Japan’s Asahi Glass offering its toughened Dragontail glass, believed to be used by Apple for the iPad 2 and Samsung for the Galaxy Nexus, according to researchers.

Despite all of this acclaim, Corning, Gorilla Glass and the glass industry as a whole remain something of an undervalued commodity in the consumer electronics industry. Toughened glass seems to be expected on most mobile devices, while the intricate process of moving glass between clean rooms (an essential process in a bid to avoid foreign objects) is a skill that has been overlooked by the world’s media. Perhaps it is because toughened-class simply isn’t sexy enough for consumers or the respective press members.

For now, Corning looks set to focus on promoting Gorilla Glass 2, but the company has even bigger plans for toughened glass in the future. The group is believed to be working on smash-proof handsets, and is also looking to branch out into several news sectors.

"We have a futures group that looks at architecture, appliances and automotive," said James Hollis, director of Gorilla Glass worldwide sales, when speaking to the BBC at CES this week.

"We do have some collaboration going on with auto manufacturers as well to investigate if we can bring that toughness and the ability to design things thinner, lighter and so better fuel efficiency as a potential benefit for auto manufacturers."

Corning itself even introduced an 82-inch touch-screen display with Gorilla Glass 2 at this week’s CES, at the booth of Perceptive Pixel.

8 things you didn’t know about Corning and Gorilla Glass

Corning Inc. is an American firm which specializes in glass and ceramics. The company was founded in 1851.

Corning’s liquid crystal display (LCD) glass making facility is in Sakai, and shares the same site as Sharp's tenth-generation LCD display plant.

Corning isn’t all about LCD glass. The company has developed ceramic substrates and filters for mobile emission control systems, optical fiber, cable hardware and equipment for telco networks and optical biosensors for drug discovery.

Corning unveiled toughened windshields for cars in 1968, but was forced to abandon the project in 1971 due to financial problems.

Corning was ranked #350 in Fortune’s top 500 largest industrial companies in 2011.

According to internal estimates, Gorilla Glass has been used on around 575 product models, culminating in 500 million units worldwide.

Some notable products using Gorilla Glass include Acer’s Iconia Tabs (A100, A500, W500), Asus’ Eee Pad Slider and Transformer, Lenovo’s ThinkPad tablet, LG’s Optimus 3D tablet and Motorola’s Xoom, Xoom 2 and Xyboard tablets (8.2 and 10.1). Samsung’s Galaxy Tab and Tab 10.1 also feature Gorilla Glass.

Wonder what the future of glass holds? Corning’s futuristic ‘A Day Made of Glass’ video is apparently the most watched corporate video on YouTube of all time and has reached 16 million hits. Catch it here.

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