Opportunities in Advanced Glasses

June 1, 2006
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Demand for advanced glasses is expected to grow as new applications come on the market.

Above: LCD glass substrates. Photography (c)2003 Corning Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.


Advanced glasses and glass ceramics are used in a variety of high-tech and specialty applications. Compared to traditional glasses, these specialty glasses contain specific additions or are entirely different compositions, often based on novel processes. For example, during the 1990s, germanosilicate photosensitive gratings were fabricated in thin films, and lower expansion and density glass was introduced by Corning for liquid crystal displays (LCDs). Nippon Electric Glass developed glass ceramic ferrules, while other companies designed waveguides based on Lumenon Innovative Lightwave Technology's photonic hybrid active silica integrated circuit (PHASIC) technology.

Innovations in specialty glasses have continued in the 21st century. During this decade, Corning developed barium-free glass for active matrix liquid crystal displays (AMLCDs), and 700 x 920 x 0.6-mm glass substrates, which eventually evolved into 1100 x 1250 x 0.6-mm glass substrates, were introduced for LCDs. Some proven ceramic processing technologies have also been successfully applied in glass processing to make advanced glasses. One such processing technology is sintering, which allows a reduction in the processing temperature and the formation of complex shapes. Sintering of pulverized glass or amorphous powders provides a possible alternative to melting at high temperatures. The sol-gel technique has been gaining ground as one of the newer methods for preparing glass and ceramic materials for specific applications, and the vapor phase deposition technique used to produce optical fibers that serve as transmission media for light wave communication systems can also be viewed as novel when compared to traditional glass making.

The use of advanced glasses varies widely, and includes electronic displays, optical fibers, thick-film packaging and substrates, optical disc substrates, aerospace and high-performance composites, medical and dental implants, dental materials, and radiation shielding. Many of these areas are seeing significant growth potential. Worldwide sales of advanced glass and glass ceramics reached $11.1 billion in 2005 and are expected to reach $17.6 billion in 2010, an average annual growth rate (AAGR) of 7.3% (see Table 1).

Electronic Displays

After the collapse of the telecommunications market in the early part of the decade, electronic displays have emerged as the leading market, accounting for nearly 90% of all electronic applications-an $8.7 billion global market. These displays include cathode ray tubes (CRTs), LCDs, and gas and vacuum discharge displays.

In the competitive market for display glass, LCDs have continued to capture market share from CRTs. The former now account for 50% of the market by value, up from just 30% in 2002, while the latter account for only 46%, down from 68% in 2002. Growth in LCDs has been rapid since the beginning of the decade as a result of strong demand from notebook PCs, desktop computer monitors, TVs, mobile telephones and other applications. The AMLCD dominates the market, and with technological advances (G7, for example), very large flat-panel displays are possible. Large-area substrates have reduced the costs of AMLCD panels, allowing the simultaneous fabrication of an increasing number of complex display panels on a single substrate. However, scaling up to larger substrates results in a number of challenges to substrate manufacturers, including yield, costs, sag and warping.

To meet these challenges, glass properties are being modified, including lowering both the density and coefficient of thermal expansion. Additionally, problems such as color and image distortion with large screens have largely been resolved. In TV applications, LCDs use less power and last longer. As a result, LCDs will get larger and will gradually dominate the 42-in. market. Indeed, LCDs have already captured the 32-in. market away from plasma. In 2000, the largest LCD screen being manufactured was 22 in.; today, screens as large as 65 in. have been manufactured.

The demand for LCD panels for notebook PCs and monitors has been closely related to the information technology industry. All notebook computers are already LCD, and most new desktop models feature a flat LCD screen. Space savings and reduced energy consumption are two of the technology's biggest drivers in this sector. The retail price of thin film transistor (TFT) LCD-based notebooks and desktop monitors will continue to decline, and other new applications will continue to grow. LCD TVs are also becoming more widely available outside of Japan, and more affordable. More automobiles are also being offered with navigation displays in the dashboard and entertainment displays for passengers.

Due to their growing popularity, LCDs will see market growth of more than 16% per year at the expense of CRTs, which are expected to decline nearly 7% per year in global value through 2010. The period will also be marked by higher demand for large display substrates, as televisions and computer monitors increase in size. By 2010, CRTs will account for only 22% of the market, with LCDs accounting for 74%.

Optical Fibers and Optoelectronics

The second largest application for glass and glass ceramics comes, not surprisingly, from optical applications. In the early part of the decade, the industry suffered from significant overcapacity following the collapse in the telecommunications industry. Global sales for advanced ceramics and glasses in this optical application fell from $2.2 billion in 2002 to $1.7 billion in 2004, and profits also suffered. A recovery in the telecommunications sector appears to be emerging and will aid the demand for optical fibers and other optoelectronic applications.

Health Care and Aerospace

The health care and aerospace/high performance segment comprises a much smaller percentage of the overall glass market; combined, they accounted for just 5.5% of the total market in 2005. However, both should experience considerable growth through 2010. The health care market will grow from $376 million in 2005 to almost $600 million in 2010, an AAGR of 9.3%, as demand for glass ceramic crowns and other dental aesthetics increases and new products come on the market. Rising incomes will also foster demand. New biocompatible compositions are driving growth in glass ionomers for dental applications, as well as bioglass implants. The most rapid growth, however, is occurring in radiation therapy and DNA analysis.

The growth for the aerospace and high- performance markets will be significantly slower, reaching $411 million in 2010. Nonetheless, this sector will present some new opportunities after five years of slumped demand.

A Global Market

Overall, demand for advanced glasses is expected to grow as new applications in the various segments come on the market. The plethora of handheld electronic devices, for example, is driving LCD demand. Innovation continues at a strong pace, and suppliers are aggressively pursuing cost reductions in electronic displays. In the electronic and optical markets, North America leads in several areas in market development and innovation as Corning has a large market presence in a number of key segments. Japan follows close behind, as does Korea, which has emerged as a leading player in electronic displays. In the health care market, North America and Europe tend to dominate. China is emerging as a center for producing some advanced glass and ceramics, but its capabilities still lag somewhat. It is, however, becoming the venue for electronic display assembly.

Editor's note: This article is based on a recently updated BCC study, "Advanced Glasses and Glass Ceramics: Materials, Processing, New Developments" (February 2006, $4250). For more information or a copy of the table of contents of this study, contact Mark McCarthy, BCC Research, 70 New Canaan Ave., Norwalk, CT 06850; (203) 853-4266, ext. 300; e-mail sales@bccresearch.com ; or visit http://www.bccresearch.com .

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