Flexibility Matters | Materials Science | Corning

Flexibility Matters

Flexibility Matters

For both glass and ceramics, new innovations are bending the rules

If any material gets thin enough, it can become flexible, too. But to be truly useful in high-tech manufacturing, that ultra-thin material needs to remain durable and stable even in extreme heat.

It’s a tough problem, and Corning has solved it with glass and ceramics so thin they can be spooled on a roll.

And that’s not just for storage and shipping. Both flexible glass and flexible ceramics lend themselves to roll-to-roll processing, which customers see as a practical, affordable reality for manufacturing, too.

Imagine, for example, how a printing press can rapidly print the same text over and over on a single roll of paper. In a similar fashion, manufacturers can apply images, coatings, electronic circuitry, and more to the flexible material in a fast, cost-effective roll-to-roll process.

The innovations are opening new possibilities in such wide-ranging areas as architectural design and energy storage.

One example: Corning® Willow® Glass, which can be as thin as a sheet of paper -- 100 microns, to be exact. Bendable, wearable electronic displays are both possible and practical with Willow Glass. And it’s made a splash as a laminate on flat construction materials like wood or metal, offering a gleaming, chemically resistant surface.

Also intriguing high-technology manufacturers are thin ceramic sheets.

Corning developed ceramic sheets made with zirconia more than a decade ago for use in fuel cells, electronics, gas sensors, and other applications. Leveraging our deep understanding of ceramic engineering and modeling, Corning recently developed a revolutionary roll-to-roll (R2R) ceramic processing method to manufacture Ribbon Ceramics – high quality, fully dense ceramic substrates in ribbon or wafer format.

Ribbon Ceramic made from zirconia comes in thicknesses as low as 20 microns. It has attracted attention over recent years for its potential use in microbatteries for smartcards, sensors, and Internet-connect wearables.

More recently, Corning began exploring an alumina version of Ribbon Ceramic with high thermal conductivity. Alumina Ribbon Ceramic is ideal for use in LED lighting, power electronics, and radio frequency applications.

Flexible ceramics also offer potential for more economical production of solid-state batteries. Thin, long-lasting ceramic electrolytes, produced via roll-to-roll manufacturing, offer an alternative to the liquid electrolytes widely used in today’s shorter-lived rechargeable lithium ion batteries.

While glass and ceramics draw their compositions from different elements, Corning researchers are finding more and more parallels between the way the materials behave in ultra-thin, flexible form factors. The materials are helping give rise to other industry innovations, too, like new methods of coating rolled surfaces -- just one more example of growing commercial potential for roll-to-roll processing.