On the heels of Plastic Logic's announcement of a flexible color display for e-readers (which we covered last week), Corning has released Willow Glass, a display material that is 100 microns thin and flexible enough to be rolled.
Willow Glass is said to be the first display material that can be adapted to high-volume, low-cost, continuous roll-to-roll manufacturing processes. (You can watch a video from Corning at the bottom of this post.) These processes, similar to the methods used for printing newspapers, involve temperatures of up to 500 degrees Centigrade, which the polymer films used in plastic display technology can't tolerate.
At 100 microns thin, Corning's new Willow Glass is flexible enough to be processed in high-volume roll-to-roll manufacturing processes for consumer electronics displays, which will help bring down costs. (Source: Corning)
The glass is being produced in a sheet-to-sheet manufacturing process. Switching to roll processing will be "a long-awaited industry milestone," Dipak Chowdhury, division vice president and Willow Glass program director, said in a press release. Corning is collaborating with customers, research institutions, and equipment makers to develop an optimized process design and compatible process equipment.
Corning plans initially to target Willow Glass for OEMs developing display and touch applications. Its thinness, strength, and flexibility would let displays be wrapped around devices such as medical equipment or around structures such as signage. The company is working on other applications, such as lighting and solar cells.
Willow Glass can be used to support color filters and thinner backplanes for organic LEDs and LCDs in high-performance portable electronics such as notebook computers, tablets, and smartphones. It can also help engineers developing conformable displays designed for nonflat surfaces or for immersive viewing.
Corning says the material is formulated to perform well for electronic components such as touch sensors, and it leverages the natural hermetic properties of glass to serve as a seal for OLED displays and other moisture- and oxygen-sensitive technologies. Even at 100 microns, it can hermetically seal components while providing excellent surface, thermal and optical properties, the company says.
Like its predecessors, Gorilla Glass, EAGLE XG Slim, and Corning Lotus Glass, the new material is produced with Corning's proprietary fusion process.
Ann, Thanks for this report. This product is a tribute to Corning's manufacturing excellence, web processing capabilities, and is essential to delivering these new materials cost-effectively. The inside story on the automation and controls in this process, and collaboration between research and production, has to be outstanding to make this happen. Thanks again.
Beth, I'd guess that your iPhone may have a display made with Corning's Gorilla Glass, which is used in many smartphones. However, based on the other applications mentioned, these products may be targeted for the backplane, not the frontplane. The frontplane is on the outside and would get scratched if you dropped it. That's actually a separate measurement from durability. The materials that don't scratch or crack easily also weigh a lot, like some metals. Scratches on consumer electronics are an ongoing problem.
Any sense of the durability of this new material. As the not-so-proud proud owner of a slightly cracked iPhone (and having completely dessimated its predecessor after dropping it on a hard tile floor), durability has to be key. These devices are so attached to us and go everywhere, they have to be able to hold up.
What I really like about this innovation is not just the materials aspect, but the fact that this breakthrough will allow the roll-to-roll manufacturing and high-temperature processes that are key to high-volume manufacturing. This may not "change everything," an overused phrase, but it will change a lot in display technology for mobile devices.
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