By Stephanie Vozza
Remember the scene in Wall Street where Gordon Gekko is walking along the beach talking on a cell phone the size of a loaf of rye from the deli? That once-cutting-edge piece of technology made a cameo appearance in the movie sequel, eliciting a chuckle from moviegoers and serving as a bold reminder of how sleek mobile phones have become.
And they’re getting sleeker still, thanks to new technology like Corning’s Gorilla Glass and Gorilla Glass 2, which was unveiled at the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. At a thickness of .5 to 2 millimeters, the thin-sheet glass is a chemically strengthened alkali-aluminosilicate material formed during an ion exchange, where a protective layer of larger potassium ions is formed at the surface for stronger compression.
What does this mean for you? Well, you can forget purchasing that screen protector; you won’t need it. And you don’t have to worry about dropping your phone. The material, which can withstand more than 100 pounds of pressure per square inch, makes your smartphone scratch resistant and less prone to shattering. Thirty brands use Gorilla Glass on more than 600 products. Motorola put it on the Droid Razr, Nokia uses it for its Lumina and Samsung put it on its Galaxy Note. And, while neither Apple nor Corning admits to a relationship, it’s rumored that it protects the iPhone, as well.
The technology behind Gorilla Glass was invented by Corning in the 1960s when it was experimenting with a process that chemically strengthened glass. It never produced the product mass market because there was no mass-market need. So Corning shelved the idea for almost 40 years, until Apple’s Steve Jobs came calling in 2006. In his biography of Steve Jobs, author Walter Isaacson tells the story of Jobs meeting with Wendell Weeks, CEO of Corning Glass, asking the company to invent a lightweight but strong glass for a project he was working on. Weeks told Jobs they already invented it, now they had something for it to do.
Sales of Gorilla Glass have been strong. And while Corning didn’t reach its original prediction of $1 billion for last year, the company reported 2011 sales at $710 million, which is triple its sales from the previous year.
Gorilla Glass is just one of the advances in the glass world. Corning is developing flexible glass at its upstate New York facility, which can be fed through a roll-to-roll processing system, making it possible to print on the surface of the glass in a fashion similar to the newspaper printing press. The roll-to-roll processing would increase the speed and reduce the cost of production on products such as e-readers and flexible displays.
And glass is the material being used for security at One World Trade Center. The 70,000-square-foot “curtain wall” is made of 12,000 glass panels, each measuring 5’ x 13’ 4”. Designed to withstand 100-mile-per-hour winds, the panels are made by Minnesota-based Viracon, manufacturers of high-performing architectural glass. They are strengthened through the use of a polyurethane coating placed between two pieces of glass and heat tempered to 1,150 degrees. This technology prevents glass from shattering, even during a powerful explosion.
As the technology of glass continues to evolve, that “Caution: Glass” sign might one day become obsolete.