Checking in on Flexible Glass
Published: December 12, 2012 Category: Advanced Materials

Notable Recent Developments in Flexible Glass

In the past year, we have seen the flexible glass sector expand its commercialization efforts as some of the major firms in this area have ramped up their activities.  Some notable increases in the seriousness of intent in this sector over the past year include the following:

• Corning officially launched Willow Glass in 2012, its 100-μm-thick material designed for lightweight, cost-efficient products in the display industry. The material complements Corning's extensive line of display glass products with a new, ultra-thin material available in roll form.

• Meanwhile, AGC is offering a 100-μm-thick flexible glass material for "sheet-to-sheet" handling that is available with an easy-to-remove, rigid carrier glass.

• NEG has been exhibiting and marketing its own 200-μm-thick flexible glass under the name "ultra thin sheet glass" for displays and other electronics devices.

• Schott's commercially available D 263 eco product is available in sheet form with thicknesses down to 25 μm. The firm is also developing other flexible glass products.

Re-evaluating the Value Proposition of Flexible Glass:  Lower Weight for Initial Revenues

As the flexible glass business has moved forward, NanoMarkets believes the firms involved have become increasingly focused on where and when money will be made with this new material.  In its earliest days, flexible glass was seen as being somehow connected to the flexible display concept.  However, this association is much less apparent today.  Instead, flexible glass is now seen as serving more immediate demands for mobile display applications. 

In NanoMarkets' view, the most immediate selling point for flexible glass at the present time is that it can, at least in theory, provide a lighter-weight and lower-cost alternative to rigid glass.  Such a material is exactly what is needed by the burgeoning mobile communications and computing sector, where smartphones are getting bigger and tablets are proliferating. This growth puts a premium on lower-weight glass, since low weight is at a premium in the mobile communications/computing sector.

In fact, although billed specifically as flexible, flexible glass is actually the current end point of a long-established research program to develop thin, lightweight glass, and this program specifically has always had the mobile communications and computing market in mind. 

As things have turned out, flexible glass, as it has emerged, finds the mobile communications and computing market even more ready for its capabilities than its original backers might have once thought.

As such, one might think of flexible glass as now returning to its roots in low-weight mobile display glass, which it was always bound to do. To NanoMarkets, it now seems almost inevitable that the first significant revenues from flexible glass will come from tablet and mobile phone manufacturers.

R2R Display Manufacturing and Flexible Glass:  It's What's Next

Although not an immediate revenue generator, NanoMarkets believes that roll-to-roll (R2R) display manufacturing is near to generating revenues for flexible glass. Today, most displays are made in batch processes. However, there is a general concern in the display industry that it will not be easy to scale the current batch processes for making displays much beyond where they are now in terms of substrate size.  Batch-mode display fabrication continues to scale, but at a much less revolutionary rate than in the past.

One of the reasons for this slowing down is the use of glass itself; beyond a certain point, sheets of glass reach a point where they are so unwieldy that they are impossible to work within batch mode—they are too heavy and too likely to break. Yet the display sector is reluctant to dispense with glass, which is seen as a high quality product that enhances the marketability of the final product.  Glass is also a fine encapsulation material.

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