One of the most important components of today’s smart phone and tablet computers are their touch screens. The glass of the touch screen has to be light weight and thin, yet tough enough to withstand the abuses of everyday use – stains, scratches, falls, etc. Corning’s Gorilla Glass is perfect for this purpose.
What is Gorilla Glass?
No, Gorilla Glass is not made from gorillas. Gorilla Glass is a specially formulated alkali-aluminosilicate sheet glass designed to be thin, light weight and damage-resistant. It’s primarily used in portable electronic devices with screens, such as mobile phones, portable media players, tablet computer displays and laptop displays.
Gorilla glass begins as a mixture of refined “pure sand” – silicon dioxide - and other naturally occurring chemicals which are melted down into glass.
The product that emerges from this first stage of the process isn’t much stronger than regular glass. Gorilla Glass gets its strength during the next step, called the “fusion” process. Each sheet of glass is dipped into a high temperature salt bath where a chemical exchange occurs. Potassium ions from the salt are infused into the glass while the sodium ions are squeezed out. The potassium ions, which are larger than the sodium ions, create a pressure in the glass that’s known as “compressive stress”. Regular glass is a brittle material that is extremely strong under compression but extremely weak under tension. This compression prevents the glass from being broken due to flaws, making the resulting glass exceptionally resistant to damage.
How Did Gorilla Glass Come To Be Used in Over 600 Million Devices?
Corning began experimenting with chemically strengthened glass in 1960, as part of a product development program called “Project Muscle“. This resulted in the creation of a material called “Chemcor” glass, which served as the basis for today’s Gorilla Display Glass. At the time Corning could find no practical use for its “Chemcor” glass, so it was never put into mass production; however, the special glass was used use in one hundred 1968 Dodge Dart and Plymouth Barracuda race cars, primarily to reduce their weight.
In 2006, this all changed. By now everyone’s heard the story of how Gorilla Glass came to be used in the first version of the iPhone. Apple CEO Steve Jobs was upset about how easily the plastic screen on his iPhone prototype became scratched. He decided the iPhone needed a glass screen, but not just any glass; it had to be scratch resistant as well as aesthetically appealing. This led to a fateful meeting with Wendell Weeks, CEO of Corning Glass. It turns out Corning had just what Jobs was looking for: Gorilla Glass, a product they had developed back in the 1960s. This was just what Jobs was looking for. Unfortunately, Corning had never put Gorilla Glass into production. When Weeks informed Jobs that Corning wasn’t able to manufacture the quantities Apple required. To which Jobs replied, “Don’t be afraid. You can do it.”
Weeks and Corning rose to the challenge. Corning’s Harrodsburg, Kentucky factory was able to produce enough screens in time for the release of Apple’s iPhone in June 2007.
Corning revealed its new Gorilla Glass 2 earlier this year. Sheets of Gorilla Glass 2 can be up to 20 percent thinner than the original, but with the same elegant appearance and damage resistant qualities. Its remarkable thinness will enable the production of slimmer and sleeker devices with brighter screen images and improved touch sensitivity. Auto manufacturer Hyundai is developing a Gorilla Glass dashboard for its automobiles. Corning is also teaming up with Samsung to develop better, more damage resistant screens using a new substrate called Lotus Glass.
Apple and Gorilla Glass
What about the Apple/Corning connection? The only Apple product confirmed to use Gorilla Glass is the first iPhone. You see no mention of Corning on Apple’s site and Apple is not listed as one of the companies that use Gorilla Glass in their products. However, it is commonly believed that most new Apple products, including the iPad use Gorilla Glass for their digitizer screens and that this “secrecy” is the result of non-disclosure agreements between the two companies.
Also check out this interesting video by Corning: “A Day made of Glass“
A Unique and Innovative Product
Today, Gorilla Glass can be found in over 600 million devices from manufacturers like Acer, Sony, Dell, Nokia and others. It has become a primary component in smart phones, tablet computers and other consumer electronic devices made by a multitude of companies. If you own a device with a touch screen, chances are the screen is made of Gorilla Glass. This unique and innovative product will undoubtedly continue to have a major impact on consumer electronics for years to come.