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Notable Recent Developments in Flexible GlassIn the past year, we have seen the flexible glass sector expand its commercia...
inevitable that the first significant revenues from flexible glass will come from tablet and mobilephone manufacturers.R2R...
niche technology, a fact that has become indisputable in 2012, indicates that R2Rs time maynow be at hand. {pagebreak}Enca...
glass makers in the PV sector, if only because it is much more cost-sensitive with regard tosubstrates and encapsulation t...
Flexible Glass and Flexible Displays: The First Shall Be LastWhen flexible glass was first being talked about a few years ...
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Flexible glass


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This is an excerpt from a new NanoMarkets report that quantifies the market opportunities for flexible glass over the next eight years. In the report, we examine the latest technologies, strategies, and technical developments of the flexible glass industry and identify the key applications in which flexible glass will generate revenue for the glass industry in the near- and mid-term. The report provides granular, eight-year volume (in area) and revenue ($ US millions) forecasts for this business.

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Flexible glass

  1. 1. Notable Recent Developments in Flexible GlassIn the past year, we have seen the flexible glass sector expand its commercialization efforts assome of the major firms in this area have ramped up their activities. Some notable increases inthe seriousness of intent in this sector over the past year include the following:  Corning officially launched Willow Glass in 2012, its 100-μm-thick material designed for lightweight, cost-efficient products in the display industry. The material complements Cornings extensive line of display glass products with a new, ultra-thin material available in roll form.  Meanwhile, AGC is offering a 100-μm-thick flexible glass material for "sheet-to-sheet" handling that is available with an easy-to-remove, rigid carrier glass.  NEG has been exhibiting and marketing its own 200-μm-thick flexible glass under the name "ultra thin sheet glass" for displays and other electronics devices.  Schotts commercially available D 263 eco product is available in sheet form with thicknesses down to 25 μm. The firm is also developing other flexible glass products.Re-evaluating the Value Proposition of Flexible Glass: Lower Weight for Initial RevenuesAs the flexible glass business has moved forward, NanoMarkets believes the firms involvedhave become increasingly focused on where and when money will be made with this newmaterial. In its earliest days, flexible glass was seen as being somehow connected to theflexible display concept. However, this association is much less apparent today. Instead,flexible glass is now seen as serving more immediate demands for mobile display applications.In NanoMarkets view, the most immediate selling point for flexible glass at the present time isthat it can, at least in theory, provide a lighter-weight and lower-cost alternative to rigid glass.Such a material is exactly what is needed by the burgeoning mobile communications andcomputing sector, where smartphones are getting bigger and tablets are proliferating. Thisgrowth puts a premium on lower-weight glass, since low weight is at a premium in the mobilecommunications/computing sector.In fact, although billed specifically as flexible, flexible glass is actually the current end point of along-established research program to develop thin, lightweight glass, and this programspecifically has always had the mobile communications and computing market in mind.As things have turned out, flexible glass, as it has emerged, finds the mobile communicationsand computing market even more ready for its capabilities than its original backers might haveonce thought.As such, one might think of flexible glass as now returning to its roots in low-weight mobiledisplay glass, which it was always bound to do. To NanoMarkets, it now seems almost NanoMarkets, LC | PO Box 3840 | Glen Allen, VA 23058 | TEL: 804-938-0030 | FAX: 804-360-7259
  2. 2. inevitable that the first significant revenues from flexible glass will come from tablet and mobilephone manufacturers.R2R Display Manufacturing and Flexible Glass: Its Whats NextAlthough not an immediate revenue generator, NanoMarkets believes that roll-to-roll (R2R)display manufacturing is near to generating revenues for flexible glass. Today, most displaysare made in batch processes. However, there is a general concern in the display industry that itwill not be easy to scale the current batch processes for making displays much beyond wherethey are now in terms of substrate size. Batch-mode display fabrication continues to scale, butat a much less revolutionary rate than in the past.One of the reasons for this slowing down is the use of glass itself; beyond a certain point,sheets of glass reach a point where they are so unwieldy that they are impossible to work withinbatch mode—they are too heavy and too likely to break. Yet the display sector is reluctant todispense with glass, which is seen as a high quality product that enhances the marketability ofthe final product. Glass is also a fine encapsulation material. {pagebreak}R2R processes are generally assumed to be inherently less expensive than batch processes,and the display industry has been attracted to them for some time. However, one reason whyR2R processing has not yet been implemented is that it has been assumed to require flexiblesubstrates and encapsulation, which in turn has implied the need for (1) plastic substrates,which might be widely viewed as inferior to glass in terms of performance, and/or (2) expensiveand immature flexible encapsulation technology.Flexible glass appears to offer an important way to cut this Gordian knot. Flexible glass willwork well as a substrate in R2R plants, but it is still glass; so it overcomes the problems in (1)and, again because it is glass, flexible glass seems well-designed for being a flexibleencapsulation technology, thereby making an end run around objection (2).The bottom line here is that flexible glass offers a way for the display industry to smoothlytransition to R2R processes, for which there are strong theoretical arguments.In other words, NanoMarkets believes that the display industry is discovering that there is acompelling reason for using flexible glass as an enabling technology for R2R processing. In factthe pent up demand for flexible glass in this context may be almost as great as for flexible glassdeployed in lightweight mobile displays.However, what is likely to hold back the demand for flexible glass as an R2R facilitator is thatdisplay makers will not make a quick transition from batch mode to R2R, no matter what. Thetransition from one fabrication technology to an entirely different one is not very speedy.There has been no news in the past year that suggests that the shift to R2R will occur quickly.However, now that OLEDs, which are highly-suited to R2R processing, are now no longer a NanoMarkets, LC | PO Box 3840 | Glen Allen, VA 23058 | TEL: 804-938-0030 | FAX: 804-360-7259
  3. 3. niche technology, a fact that has become indisputable in 2012, indicates that R2Rs time maynow be at hand. {pagebreak}Encapsulation, OLEDs, and Flexible Glass: This point about OLEDs is proven primarily bythe fact that active-matrix OLEDs (AMOLEDs) now hold a non-trivial share of the mobile displaymarket, and their share is set to increase as AMOLEDs begin to be seen more widely in tabletsin 2013. In fact, the use of AMOLEDS seems to be the intent of all makers of mobile phones—even Apple. And OLED TVs, although much delayed, do seem to be slouching towardscommercialization. The major constraint here appears not to be technical, but rather that theavailable capacity for AMOLED is just not there yet.In addition, OLEDs require much greater encapsulation than conventional display types. OLEDsare notoriously environmentally sensitive, so encapsulation barriers have always been achallenge to the manufacturing process. And so while they can be fabricated easily andinexpensively in an R2R process, their lifetimes are questionable unless they can be veryeffectively encapsulated.At this point most OLEDs are not processed using R2R fabrication. However, more emphasison R2R manufacturing in the future seems inevitable, which will, of course, not be able to usethe rigid glass encapsulation that is being used today.But while many attempts have been made to develop a plastic-based encapsulation film, fewhave emerged that provide the necessary protection at an affordable price. In contrast, while itremains expensive today, flexible glass has excellent barrier performance, and it also benefitsfrom high transparency, thermal stability, and its status as a known entity in the displaybusiness. As a result, we think that flexible glass may well emerge as the material for OLEDencapsulation where R2R processes are being deployed.In addition, flexible glass is a potential substitute for low-cost plastics, metals, and othermaterials that are currently being proposed to serve as flexible substrates or encapsulation.To date, the use of flexible glass has been held back by its high cost, but given its advantagesas outlined above, the opportunities could be expanded if the glass industry can convincinglydemonstrate a pathway toward cost reductions. {pagebreak}Prospects for Flexible Glass in PhotovoltaicsThe two markets for flexible glass mentioned above are associated with relatively low levels ofuncertainty. Short of some major U-turns in core display industry trends, flexible glass seems tobe uniquely suited to some of the biggest changes that are expected in the display industrygoing forward.NanoMarkets believes that there may also be some opportunities for flexible glass in the solarpanel industry too. However, the uncertainties/risks in this sector are much greater for flexible NanoMarkets, LC | PO Box 3840 | Glen Allen, VA 23058 | TEL: 804-938-0030 | FAX: 804-360-7259
  4. 4. glass makers in the PV sector, if only because it is much more cost-sensitive with regard tosubstrates and encapsulation than are displays. This sensitivity is especially noticeable at thepresent time. While the display industry has never been particularly profitable, the current stateof the PV sector could best be characterized as disastrously unprofitable, with many long-established firms going under.It is therefore not surprising that few of the flexible glass firms are paying much attention to thePV sector at the present time. Nonetheless, NanoMarkets believes that they shouldnt ignore itas a long-term market opportunity. There are several reasons for such quasi-optimistic advice:  Low weight can be as big a factor in the PV industry as it is in the display industry, particularly in building-integrated PV (BIPV) applications, which is the fastest growing segment of the PV industry. Low weight lowers the cost of transport for solar panels  a not-inconsiderable part of the final cost of solar panel. It can also make PV panels easier to install, (especially on walls) and reduce the need to provide additional support for roofs in certain cases.  Low weight in the PV sector is strongly associated with flexible PV. Indeed, the prime commercial justification for flexible PV seems to be low weight, rather than flexibility, per se. And while a variety of PV absorber layers can be made flexible, the most important ones are also delicate materials that are in need of good flexible encapsulation. CIGS is the best example here, because it has a noticeable share of the entire PV market and is quite important in the context of BIPV. OPV and DSC have similar needs, but their long- term viability is still in question.  The same arguments favoring R2R that we made for displays apply to the PV sector as well.NanoMarkets believes that we are going to have to wait for a year or two to see whether there isany market take-up of flexible glass in the PV sector. For one thing, the firms that are currentlydeveloping flexible glass dont seem to have that much interest in the PV sector. In addition,firms in the PV sector have little money for innovation at the present time. So there are plenty ofuncertainties associated with flexible glass in the PV sector, especially when compared to theopportunities for flexible glass in the display industry mentioned above.Adding to these uncertainties is the fact that, while glass increases the value of a display andthe use of plastic makes the display seem "cheap," this observation does not seem to apply toPV panels; non-glass substrates are already common in the PV industry. The most likelyscenario for flexible glass in the PV sector is that it will enjoy niche status until it dropsconsiderably in cost towards the end of the decade, at which point it may find a reasonableshare of the PV market in those products that use environmentally-unstable absorber materials.{pagebreak} NanoMarkets, LC | PO Box 3840 | Glen Allen, VA 23058 | TEL: 804-938-0030 | FAX: 804-360-7259
  5. 5. Flexible Glass and Flexible Displays: The First Shall Be LastWhen flexible glass was first being talked about a few years back, there was a natural tendencyto associate it with the then popular concept of flexible displays, meaning displays that the end-user can actually flex. This connection is a natural one, and NanoMarkets still believes that it isa reasonable one to make; glass is "natural" for displays, and the only kind of glass that couldbe used in a flexible display is flexible glass.However, what has changed in 2012 is that it is far from clear that intrinsically flexible displayshave much of a future. The history of flexible displays over the past decade has already beenone of broken promises, mostly because of technological issues, and in 2012, it becameapparent that the supposed "killer app" for flexible displays probably didnt have as muchpotential as was once thought.This killer app was thought to be a medium-to-large rollable display that could be plugged into acell phone in order to turn the phone into something closer to a real computer. Unfortunately forthe flexible display sector, during 2012, the boom in tablet computing seemed to cater to exactlythe same market that rollable displays were supposed to cater to, and as that boom continuesinto 2013, it could prove a strong disincentive for firms that were previously looking to createflexible active matrix displays.In fact, as far as NanoMarkets is aware, there are no firms today that are anywhere near thelaunch of rollable or foldable flexible displays. This situation leads to confusion about what"flexible displays" really means, and NanoMarkets impression is that "flexible display" is a termthat is in the process of being defined downwards.For example, our understanding is that the Youm-brand OLED-display products set for launchby Samsung in 2013 will be fabricated on plastic (i.e., flexible) substrates, but then encased inhard plastic. This approach is actually no different from e-readers that use a flexible E Ink frontplane.Until truly flexible—that is intrinsically flexible—AM displays are available and shown to havegained customer acceptance, the opportunities for flexible glass in this sector are likely to behighly constrained. And, unfortunately, it is no longer clear what type of intrinsically flexibledisplay could actually gain such acceptance.Some in the display industry seem to believe that intrinsically flexible displays will be firstadopted by the military (which would mean low volume sales), and NanoMarkets has suggestedthat, in the next decade, large rollable displays may be used for ultra-high definition TV.See for additional details about the NanoMarkets report, Flexible GlassMarkets, 2013 & Beyond NanoMarkets, LC | PO Box 3840 | Glen Allen, VA 23058 | TEL: 804-938-0030 | FAX: 804-360-7259