Corning SVP Calls Sapphire Glass Expensive And Environmentally Unfriendly

sapphire

In news that will come as a shock to absolutely no one, it seems that Corning Glass (makers of Gorilla Glass) aren’t big fans of Sapphire glass.

Asked by Morgan Stanley analyst James Fawcett his thoughts about “one large handset and device maker” planning to use Sapphire in its products, Tony Tripeny, a senior vice president at Corning Glass, responded that:

“When we look at it, we see a lot of disadvantages of Sapphire versus Gorilla Glass. It’s about 10 times more expensive. It’s about 1.6 times heavier. It’s environmentally unfriendly. It takes about 100 times more energy to generate a Sapphire crystal than it does glass. It transmits less light which…means either dimmer devices or shorter battery life. It continues to break. I think while it’s a scratch resistant product it still breaks and our testing says that Gorilla Glass [can take] about 2.5 times more pressure that it can take…Sapphire on. So when we look at it, we think from an overall industry and trend that is not attractive in consumer electronics.”

Fawcett then asked just what it was that is more inherently expensive about Sapphire. “Is there something [about] the material or is this just a volume game?” he said. “If you could bring up Sapphire production [would] that … drop the price significantly and be more competitive with Gorilla Glass?”

Tripeny’s answer:

“So from the last question, I will probably answer that first. Clearly, Corning has been in the crystal manufacturing business for a very long time, both directly and also through our joint venture, Dow Corning. So our knowledge of this has a lot to do with our knowledge about round crystal manufacturing. If it was a business that was attractive to enter into, we certainly would be able to do that.

On the first question, I think it’s really a combination of three things. The formation takes about 4,000 times longer than Gorilla Glass at a significantly higher melting temperature. Its hardness makes machining more difficult and costly. Then the cost per unit increases exponentially because when you have defects in boundaries in the crystal growth process, you essentially cut them out. And so unlike glass, where we have developed technologies so that we can have [a] very large pristine pieces of glass, when you have that on crystals, what you end up doing is always having a yield issue. So it is really those items that make things more expensive.”

The exchange took place at Tuesday’s Morgan Stanley Technology, Media & Telecom Conference.

While Apple was not explicitly named it was obviously the “large handset and device maker” in question, having been strongly rumored to be using Sapphire crystal for some of its future devices — including future iPhones as well as the iWatch.

Apple was recently reported as “[snapping] up” three year’s worth of sapphire screens from the company that had been engaged to make the screens for the proposed Ubuntu Edge smartphone.

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About the author

Luke DormehlLuke Dormehl is a UK-based journalist and author, with a background working in documentary film for Channel 4 and the BBC. He is the author of The Formula: How Algorithms Solve All Our Problems, And Create More and The Apple Revolution, both published by Penguin/Random House. His tech writing has also appeared in Wired, Fast Company, Techmeme, and other publications. He'd like you a lot if you followed him on Twitter.

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