Corning Unveils Flexible Willow Glass
June 4, 2012

Corning Unveils Flexible Willow Glass

Michael Harper for

For whatever reason, it seems people expect their glass devices to allow for some level of flexibility. Be it in the name of durability or design, companies have tried to bring a flexible form factor to our glass and LCD devices. Now, Corning has announced such a development in their glass lineup.

Called Willow Glass, this new material is only 100-microns thick and is said to be a flexible substrate for LCDs and OLEDs. According to Corning, this new Willow Glass has the potential to be “wrapped” around devices, giving designers more “flexibility” (pardon the pun) in style when drawing up new devices. Corning also says this new material can be processed at temperatures as high as 500 degrees Celsius. “High temperature processing capability is essential for today´s high end displays, and is a processing condition that cannot be supported with polymer films,” according to Corning´s press release.

In addition to being incredibly flexible, super-thin and well built, Willow Glass will also be efficiently made. This new glass will enable a process called “roll-to-roll," similar to the way newspapers are made. Rather than making whole, rigid sheets of glass to then turn into displays, Willow glass allows a more fluid manufacturing process, offering more efficiency to manufacturers.

“If you take glass as thick as a business card, it´s not flexible. Think about the same business card and make it seven times thinner -- it works like paper,” said Dipak Chowdhury, head of Project Willow, speaking to Fox News.

Founder of HDTV Almanac Alfred Poor said this new roll-to-roll process could be a game changer for the entire industry.

“Can you roll a ream of paper? And those pages aren´t even attached to each other.”

“The Holy Grail has been to get to roll to roll manufacturing for displays.”

Chowdhury added that a material as thin as Willow Glass could also lead to thinner devices, cutting out the need for a protective layer of glass on our smartphones, similar to the in-cell technology Apple is rumored to use in upcoming devices.

Corning says that Willow Glass is best suited for “high performance, portable devices such as smart phones, tablets, and notebook computers.” Corning also mentions the use of Willow Glass in a number of displays, as well as curved displays, which will further the advancement of immersive viewing. As you might expect, this incredibly thin material is also conducive to touch-panel technologies. Looking beyond touch-panels, LCDs and OLEDs, Corning is also planning to use Willow Glass in solar cells and lighting applications. Chowdhury said the flexible glass will better protect solar cells and photosensitive equipment from the elements such as moisture and oxygen, creating a longer-lasting cell. As for bulbs, Corning says OLED technology can be used to print the “light bulb” directly on a piece of flexible glass, enabling a light shade to be an actual bulb itself, complete with dimming capabilities.

For all its benefits, Willow Glass is not as durable as its thicker, more rigid brother. For example, Gorilla Glass (and the upcoming Gorilla Glass 2) is so durable, it can be used as a hammer.

Chowdhury will present this new Willow Glass this week at the Society for Information Display´s Display Week 2012 in Boston.