How Corning Created Gorrila Glass

by Christopher Paul on September 29, 2012

Everyone has heard of the iPhone by now and that it – and the copycat devices that followed – have a touchscreen display made of glass. It turns out it’s a special glass made by Corning who also made Pyrex. It’s code name during development was Gorilla Glass and it’s now famous for its use in not just the iPhone but most touchscreen displays.

Where once the iPhone was almost scrapped because certain things just wouldn’t work, so was Gorilla Glass. In fact, it was shelved for years before the right use came to be. Wired has that story. An excerpt:

The idea to dust off the Chemcor samples actually cropped up in 2005, before Apple had even entered the picture. Motorola had recently released the Razr V3, a flip phone that featured a glass screen in lieu of the typical high-impact plastic. Corning formed a small group to examine whether an 0317-like glass could be revived and applied to devices like cell phones and watches. The old Chemcor samples were as thick as 4 millimeters. But maybe they could be made thinner. After some market research, executives believed the company could even earn a little money off this specialty product. The project was codenamed Gorilla Glass.

By the time the call from Jobs came in February 2007, these initial forays hadn’t gotten very far. Apple was suddenly demanding massive amounts of a 1.3-mm, chemically strengthened glass—something that had never been created, much less manufactured, before. Could Chemcor, which had never been mass-produced, be married to a process that would yield such scale? Could a glass tailored for applications like car windshields be made ultrathin and still retain its strength? Would the chemical strengthening process even work effectively on such a glass? No one knew. So Weeks did what any CEO with a penchant for risk-taking would do. He said yes.

After several rounds of intense iteration, Corning was able to make their product to Jobs’ satisfaction. The rest, they say, is history.

Of course, the whole article is worth reading because it highlights two things I find fascinating – how failure can lead to tremendous success and timing is everything. And, yes, the science behind the glass and how it’s made is also interesting so, if you want to know what goes into making your iPhone, Android, or Blackberry touchscreens, read this article.

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