'Willow Glass' screens to wrap around mobile devices

Ultra-thin glass could be used to create thinner, lighter phones and tablets

A new type of ultra-thin glass has been developed that can bend and "wrap" around devices, potentially revolutionising the shape and form of future consumer electronic technologies.

The new material, known as Willow Glass, has been developed by Corning - the same company that created ultra-strong Gorilla Glass, which is currently used in many smartphones and tablets - using its proprietary fusion process.

Willow Glass can be made as thin as 100 microns to increase the sensitivity of touchscreens, and can also support thinner backplanes and colour filters for both organic light emitting diodes (OLEDs) and liquid crystal displays (LCDs).

Moreover, Willow Glass can be processed at temperatures of up to 500C - a capability that Corning says will enable the industry to pursue continuous "roll-to-roll" processes, similar to how newsprint is produced - that have been impossible until now (see video below).

"Displays become more pervasive each day and manufacturers strive to make both portable devices and larger displays thinner. Corning Willow Glass provides the substrate performance to maintain device quality in a thin and light form factor," said Dr Dipak Chowdhury, division vice president and Willow Glass program director.

"Currently manufacturing in a sheet-to-sheet process, we expect Corning Willow Glass to eventually allow customers to switch to high-throughput, efficient roll-to-roll processing, a long-awaited industry milestone."

Willow Glass could be used to make thinner, lighter mobile devices, or to make curved displays for immersive viewing or mounting on non-flat surfaces.

Corning is currently shipping samples of its Willow Glass to customers developing new display and touch applications, and is also collaborating with research institutions and equipment makers to develop an ecosystem of compatible process equipment.

However, Corning is not the only company experimenting with flexible screens for mobile devices. Although Plastic Logic pulled out of the e-reader business last month, it still plans to license its bendable plastic displays to OEMs, system integrators, and device manufacturers for applications such as paper replacement and rugged displays.

Meanwhile, mobile device manufacturer Samsung has shown flexible OLED displays inside rigid cases that kept the screens curved, and plans to launch mobile phones with flexible displays this year, with tablets and other portable devices to have these displays soon after.

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Sophie Curtis

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