Why Corning is Going Ape Over Gorilla Glass

Why Corning is Going Ape Over Gorilla Glass

Sales of Gorilla Glass tripled in 2011, and the damage-resistant cover glass now is found in more than 600 million consumer electronic devices -- and counting.

It's 7 a.m. in "the near future," and a suburban family is beginning the day.

As the wife gets ready in the master bathroom, she gazes into the mirror and sees a touch-enabled dashboard on the glass -- displaying her e-mail, the local weather forecast and her schedule for the day.

Meanwhile, in the kitchen, the husband uses a touch-enabled control on the glass countertop to heat up the stove -- while watching the morning news on a built-in TV.

When the kids come bounding down the stairs, one of them walks up to the refrigerator, where several digital family photos are displayed on the door of the appliance. With the touch of a finger, she shuffles the photos around, resizes one in particular, and -- with a devilish smile -- draws cat whiskers on her sister's face.

No, it's not a scene from "The Jetsons." The high-tech tableau is one of a number of fanciful, futuristic scenarios presented in Corning Inc.'s "A Day Made of Glass."

The video, unveiled in early 2011, showcases the myriad potential applications for Corning's Gorilla Glass -- which range from an appliance veneer to a web-enabled work surface to a damage-resistant cover glass for consumer electronic devices.

The video also offers a glimpse into Corning's vision for the future -- and for the survival of the 160-year-old Corning (IW 500/132) that's perhaps best known for its cookware products. (Corning sold off its cookware business in the late 1990s.)

"The drive toward touch-enabled devices is only going to continue and expand, as people look to interact with the virtual world directly, by reaching into it," says Jim Clappin, president of Corning Glass Technologies.

Of course, people can't reach into the devices completely, Clappin adds, "because they're usually stopped by our Gorilla Glass, which protects the devices."

"But the trend is inescapable."

'Larger and Larger Devices'

Corning introduced Gorilla Glass in 2007, answering the call of mobile-phone manufacturers for a cover glass that would be more durable than the traditional soda-lime glass or plastic.

Today, Gorilla Glass is featured on more than 600 million consumer electronic devices spanning more than 600 product models, according to Corning.

In 2011, sales of Gorilla Glass topped $700 million, nearly tripling its sales from the previous year. The company expects the market for Gorilla Glass to grow "materially" through 2014, goosed by surging demand for handheld devices and tablet computers.

But Clappin notes that Corning sees opportunities for Gorilla Glass beyond its use on portable electronic devices.

"As an example, we're working with automakers to utilize Gorilla Glass as a glazing material for sunroofs," Clappin says. "It's stronger and lighter and even has some audio qualities that surpass the current soda-lime products. So there are several auto companies that are pursuing this with us."

In "A Day Made of Glass," Corning hints at some of those possibilities, such as when a motorist sees real-time traffic information displayed on an overhead road sign (an example of Corning's "electro-optics-enabling" large-format display glass) and when a shopper browses a clothing store's virtual selection of cardigans on Corning's life-size display glass.

"The trend toward interacting with [electronic] devices will drive it to larger and larger devices," Clappin says.

Gorilla Glass 2

In January, Corning unveiled Gorilla Glass 2 -- and with it another futuristic video demonstrating how "Corning's specialty glass is helping enable a world of communication and connection," according to the company.

"The biggest difference and opportunity with Gorilla Glass 2 is that its toughness and damage resistance have been increased through the formulation of the glass," Clappin tells IndustyWeek.

"This enables our customers to either enjoy the additional damage resistance or to utilize the glass in a thinner form factor."

Corning boasts that Gorilla Glass 2 enables electronics manufacturers to produce "slimmer and sleeker devices" with brighter images and better touch sensitivity.

"You can go about 20% thinner with Gorilla Glass 2 and have the exact same performance characteristics of the current Gorilla Glass product," Clappin says.

"And many opt for that advantage, because in handheld and portable devices, thin and light are important attributes."

Corning, based in an upstate-New York town that bears its name, reported record revenue of $7.9 billion in 2011, and is pushing toward a goal of $10 billion by 2014. If our high-tech world continues to evolve in the direction of "A Day Made of Glass," Corning could be well positioned to achieve that goal.

"We are excited about this world," Corning CEO Wendell Weeks told investors in February, "because it's a world that depends on highly engineered specialty glass and fiber-optic technology."

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