Credit: I. Kirton/United Bottlemakers of Yorkshire
Mark your calendars—this sounds like fun!
From Ian Kirton via LinkedIn:
Bringing together the largest group of bottle makers the world has ever seen. Bottle makers have been invited from the seven glass container plants in Yorkshire to bring their families out and have a fun day. Yes there will be fair ground rides and bouncy castles all the fun of an English country fair and, yes, there will be a bar selling good English ale and, yes, the Army and Navy will be recruiting as I said all you would expect to see at a country fair, but this country fair is a bottle makers fun day so how could the United Bottle Makers of Yorkshire miss out on the chance to capture that knowledge and history. We will be creating a potted history of the glass industry; we are inviting glass workers new old and retired to leave us with a story or two of their experiences in the glass industry. These people are the real Glassperts. We are expecting stories going back 50 years; we will try and capture this living history before the Glassperts take it to the grave. If there is there any companies out there who wish to support GlassFest and Glassperts please feel free to contact me.
The festival has its own Facebook page, too.
We need something like this in the US, both for glass making and ceramic making.
Sapphire versus Gorilla Glass in smartphones? Corning says no contest but GT Advanced Technologies disagrees
There have been many gains in the production and application of sapphire over the last decade, but one new application being pursued—cover and touch screens for smartphones and similar devices—has certainly surprised me and is generating some controversy over its commercial feasibility.
Most of the discussion about sapphire can be traced to GT Advanced Technologies (GT), a Nashua, N.H., company. Back in March, GT had a booth at the Mobile World Congress 2013 show in Barcelona, Spain, where it had a demonstration of an iPhone 5 where the Gorilla Glass 2 (GG2) front cover had been replaced with sapphire (see video above).
I mention the GG2 only because the state-of-the-art glass is Gorilla Glass 3, which has three times the damage resistance of GG2, a huge improvement in an already great product. GG3 is just now debuting on the new Samsung Galaxy S4, and I suspect GG3 will show up in the next generation of iPhones, but Apple notoriously will never admit it.
Now, there is no getting around that sapphire is a wonderfully tough material, as demonstrated by its use in military transparent armor, critical optics (including many of the tiny camera lenses in smartphones) and high-end watch faces. And, I am sure that a sapphire smartphone would highly resist scratching, but … my personal opinion is that the scratching concerns, whether from car keys or sand or whatever, are highly overrated.
My first iPhone 3 fell out of my shirt while I was cycling down California’s Mt. Tam at about 40 mph. As I looked back, I saw the phone skidding and tumbling about 50 feet through the gravel on the shoulder of the road. When I retrieved it, it was face down. I expected the worse, but there was nary a scratch. Nowadays, I stuff my phone in the same pocket with my keys all the time, and I have tossed it into a lot of beach bags with sand.
There still isn’t a scratch on my phone, and I have yet to see one that does, although I am sure it happens sometimes. But I have seen no evidence that scratches are a major shortcoming of Gorilla Glass. (Smearing and difficulty seeing in direct sunlight seem to be bigger problems). I should point out that I am differentiating between scratches and cracks. I have seen several smartphones with the latter, and while scratches can lead to cracks—more on this below—cracks frequently come from impact damage when a phone is dropped on an exposed edge.
Regardless of my anecdotal experiences, sapphire has some definite knocks against it. The material may be very hard, but unlike glass, I know of no way to introduce compressive stress to sapphire. No alkali ions can be introduced to sapphire to “pack” the surface they way that a chemical treatment, for example, does to glass. These ions give glass its retained strength after damage and are what keeps damage, even smaller than visible scratches, from turning into a full-fledged crack.
Perhaps more importantly from a business standpoint, it would seem that the process of making sapphire is cost prohibitive compared to Gorilla or other glasses that can be made in a rapid continuous process. I’ve written before about some of the most advanced processes, but making sapphire still requires pulling single boules of crystal, inspecting the boules, sectioning the boule into “good” and bad sections (the diamond wire saws create more waste). After that, one must polish each sheet, a process that can introduce flaws. Critics also say that sapphire will have to be considerably thicker and heavier than GG2 or GG3 and may have glare problems. The video below, although apparently meant to be laudatory, illustrates most of these drawbacks, and the processes stands in sharp contrast to Corning’s continuous and highly automated method for making GG.
Corning is hardly unbiased, but it recently publicly expressed its doubts about sapphire. Although sapphire supporters probably see a victory in the fact that Corning has responded at all, a new press release describes sapphire as “not a major threat.” A company VP, Jeffrey Evenson, says, “What would people say if someone invented a cover that was about half the weight, used 99 percent less energy to make, provided brighter displays, and cost less than a tenth of sapphire? I think they’d say that sapphire was in real trouble. It so happens that we at Corning already invented that cover—and it’s called Gorilla Glass.”
GT, however, seems serious about promoting the idea of using sapphire in consumer touch screens. This week, the company is doing additional demonstrations and presentations at the 2013 Society for Information Display’s Display Week event in Vancouver, B.C.
In news release about appearing at the SID meeting, GT counters doubters, saying, “The presentations will highlight results of recent sapphire material testing and provide an update on the progress being made in the development of an optimized fabrication value chain for delivering low-cost and high volume sapphire screen material. GT is developing and investing in a number of innovative technologies that, when commercialized, will help to lower the cost of sapphire cover screens to levels that are competitive with reinforced glass material.”
GT also has been buying up some manufactures of advanced sapphire-making equipment. For example, last week it announced that it had purchased the Santa Rosa, Calif.-based Thermal Technologies. Tom Gutierrez, GT’s president and CEO says, “The acquisition of the Thermal Technology business adds a number of innovative and important products and technologies to our rapidly diversifying portfolio that will, we believe, allow us to accelerate our entrance into new markets.” Likewise, GT has been announcing some sales agreements with purchasers of crystal-making equipment.
All of this begs the question, Is GT’s business plan to make and sell sapphire touch screens or generate interest in sapphire among touch screen makers in order sell them sapphire-making equipment? I suspect it is the latter. I tried to get clarification on this and many other questions from GT but as of this writing, I have not heard back from the company.
Meanwhile, I am definitely in the cynic category. It’s not just about the inherent weaknesses of sapphire in this type of application. To be successful, you have to have both superior technology and the capability to deliver the product in large volumes at competitive prices. There is uncertainty about the former, and GT cannot do the latter. It is worth remembering that Steve Jobs’ biggest concern about Gorilla Glass wasn’t the technology—it was whether Corning could deliver it in the amounts that Apple thought it could sell, and even then, Corning had to basically drop everything to get the orders filled.
• Austrian fireproof materials maker RHI is considering building a new plant in the United States, the company said, to join the growing number of European industrial firms attracted by cheap energy prices across the Atlantic. RHI said it would make a decision in the fourth quarter and could invest about €50 million to build or take over a plant.
• Vesuvius said it expects its 2013 revenue to fall following restructuring and disposals. Trading has been broadly flat this year and production of steel and foundry has been affected by difficult market conditions; production fell 5.0 percent in Europe and North America in the first four months of the year, offsetting a 6.4 percent growth in Asia.
• Pretoria Portland Cement Company of South Africa plans to build a 1 million metric tons per year plant costing $200 million in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The South African cement producer aims to make at least 40 percent of its sales outside of South Africa by 2016.
• Australia’s CSR Ltd. has warned its Viridian glass division will be a continued drag on earnings in the year ahead, even after a reorganization and a $196 million provision booked in the latest financial year.
• PPG Fiber Glass has sold its 50 percent interest in the PPG-Devold glass fiber joint venture to Hexagon Devold. The 50-50 joint venture was created in 2007 to manufacture glass fiber reinforcement fabrics for use in turbine blades for wind energy.
• At meeting on May 3, the supervisory board of RHI AG approved a concept presented by the management board to adjust the production capacity in Europe to the growth rates, which are expected to stay low in the future. For this reason, the Duisburg plant in German will be closed this year. The Duisburg site currently employs 122 people and primarily produces magnesia-carbon bricks for the steel industry.
• Is glass cullet burning in US?: 1) In Lawrenceburg, W.V.: A pile of recycled glass caught fire Friday afternoon in Lawrenceburg, releasing a smoke cloud that could be seen for miles away. Fire officials in Anderson County received the from the Dlubak Glass Co. on Industry Road, that one of their piles of glass was engulfed in flames. 2) In North Las Vegas, Nev.: Fire officials are investigating what caused a glass recycling plant to go up in flames on May 5 afternoon. It happened near Craig and the I-15. Firefighters said the wind was a huge concern, because it helped the fire accelerate quickly; the plant was open and operating at the time of the fire, and firefighters estimated the flames grew to nearly 50 feet.
• Talga Resources has discovered near surface, high grade flake graphite in first drilling at its Raitajärvi project in northern Sweden. Importantly, initial assays have delivered both high grades over significant thicknesses and broad zones of mineralization not previously recorded by historic works.
• Alcoa has sent a fresh wave of nervousness through its 2,800-strong Western Australia workforce after announcing it could close more of its global aluminium operations because of the metal’s continued price decline. In yet another indication of the tough conditions sweeping through the global aluminium market, Alcoa said yesterday it would review 460,000 metric tons of smelting capacity over the next 15 months “for possible curtailment.”
• The globally respected entrepreneur Chandra Kumar Somany (known to the glass industry fraternity as “C K”), has been honored with the 43rd Phoenix Award, “Glass Person of the Year 2013.” Somany is presently serving the HNG Group as the non-executive chairman.
• Ardagh Group and US food processing company HJ Heinz have formed a packaging development partnership to create a 300g jar for the European launch of a new culinary ketchups range.
In the last few weeks, GlaxoSmithKline finally (and relatively quietly) began the sale of its renowned Sensodyne Repair & Protect toothpaste in the United States, and if you think maybe I am going to write one of those good news/bad news stories, I am not. There is no good news here and I have scratched a bald spot in my wrinkled gray scalp over the past five days trying to make sense of GSK’s decision.
There are a lot of international readers of this blog, so some background is necessary to avoid confusion for those who live outside North America. For years, GSK has sold a unique and remarkable toothpaste outside North America called Sensodyne Repair & Protect. Materials scientists, particularly those that work with advanced glass materials, took interest in this Sensodyne product because it contained a form of the 45S5 Bioglass invented by Larry Hench. As far as I know, it was the first broad-based consumer product that contained a bioactive ingredient that was designed to stimulate the body to rebuild dental tissue that, heretofore, was not rebuildable.
Repair & Protect was reported to be a godsend to people (including most adults) whose teeth have become annoyingly sensitive to heat and cold. Typically, the sensitivity occurs as one ages because some of the tooth enamel gets worn off over the years, which exposes the dentinal tubules that connect with the tooth nerves.
The 45S5 glass particles in Repair & Protect solve this by triggering an ionic reaction. When the glass particles contact saliva and water, the glass releases calcium and phosphate ions that form a calcium phosphate layer. The body then converts this to hydroxyapatite, which creates a physical barrier over the tubules much like the original enamel. Brush twice a day with Repair & Protect and after two weeks the heat/cold sensitivity disappears.
Just for the record, it wasn’t a direct path from Hench’s lab to the innovative toothpaste. Hench licensed his 45S5 to a US startup company, NovaMin, created by a group of dentists who saw the enormous potential for the glass in dental applications. GSK also saw the enormous potential and bought NovaMin for $135 million three years ago.
Quickly, GSK started bringing Repair & Protect to markets in Europe, Asia, Australia, and South America, to name a few. Anecdotally, the product seems to have been well received by consumers (despite being priced at a premium) and dental professionals. I have not read any definitive reports on sales, but according to a December 2011 story on the Consumer Goods Technology website, “As of September 2011, GlaxoSmithKline had sold 20 million units of Sensodyne Repair & Protect in more than 30 international markets.” Not bad for a few months of sales.
And it got better. According to GSK’s 2011 Annual Report, its Sensodyne Sensitivity & Acid Erosion business “grew 16%, driven by the launch of Sensodyne Repair & Protect… . Since its launch in February 2011, Sensodyne Repair & Protect has been available in 30 markets across Europe, Asia and the Middle East, with 20 additional launches planned for 2012. The Sensodyne franchise has registered double-digit growth for 11 consecutive quarters.“
GSK’s 2012 Annual Report (pdf) makes it sound like the toothpaste quickly became one of its cash cows:
“The Oral care category led growth at 8% versus market growth of approximately 4%. Sensodyne became the business’s first ‘billion-dollar brand’ in 2012, boosted by the global roll-out of Sensodyne Repair & Protect and the launch of Sensodyne Repair & Protect Whitening and Extra Fresh.”
But, one of the obvious omissions, marketwise, was that GSK wouldn’t (or couldn’t) sell Repair & Protect in the US marketplace. The reason? Over the years I have spoken with several glass experts at various ACerS meetings and the story they gave was nearly always the same: GSK couldn’t get FDA approval. As recently as two months ago, I was told by someone involved with the product’s development—but not the FDA process—whose understanding was that US sales was delayed because the regulatory agency was fine with the toothpaste composition, but uneasy with the term “repair.” Regardless of the cause of the delay, you couldn’t buy similar Repair & Protect in the US. Even online outlets, such as Amazon, refused to ship the product to the US.
So far, I have been unable to confirm the story about the FDA delays, and I don’t know if there is any truth to it.
What I do know is true is that in the past three weeks, I suddenly starting hearing from friends and ACerS contacts that they either had seen Repair & Protect commercials on US networks or had seen an actual box of the product in US retail outlets. Great, I thought. No more having to sneak it into the US!
But, in fact, I still was a little skeptical because just a week or so ago, when he was receiving the Toledo Glass Award, Larry Hench stated something to the effect that Repair & Protect was unavailable in the US. Coincidentally, my colleague Eileen De Guire excitedly shot out an iPhone picture of a box of Repair & Protect that she just found in a drugstore in Michigan.
Weird, I thought. Then even my chiropractor on Monday mentioned to me that he had seen an ad for the toothpaste.
Curiosity fully piqued, I jumped online to look for GSK’s press release about the start of Repair and Protect sales in the US. There wasn’t one. I did look for the product on GSK’s website and was eventually directed to the US Sensodyne website. Indeed, the main story proclaimed, “Now a Sensodyne toothpaste that can actually repair sensitive teeth.” A-ha! It is true.
But… there was also button to click on to “Learn more about Repair & Protect.” I clicked hoping read carefully composed marketing copy about the benefits of the NovaMin/45S5 glass particles in Repair & Protect like that on the UK Sensodyne website.
Boy, was I disappointed. Instead of a discussion of NovaMin, the webpage discusses the benefits of stannous fluoride. Stannous fluoride! The webpage also has video from a dentist whose chopped up testimonial has him saying, “I’m always open to new advances…” Now, if you are old enough to remember the old “Crest with Fluoristan” commercials, you know that there is nothing “advanced” about stannous fluoride.
I was certain there was a mistake. I was so certain there was a mistake that I went out to my local CVS to buy a tube so I could read the ingredients myself. Sure enough, the only active ingredient is “stannous fluoride 0.454%.”
I should have been tipped off by the relatively quiet start of the sales of Repair & Protect in the US. Yes, GSK/Sensodyne is running TV ads in the US, but it defies logic that a major consumer product company rolls out a “billion-dollar” brand in a huge market without 1) a press release and press push, 2) social media promotions ($1 off coupon campaigns don’t count), 3) an education campaign aimed at dentists, and 4) some nearly-over-the-top promotional events. But, that is what it appears GSK is doing.
I twice requested an interview with a GSK representative to explain why GSK switched the formulation for the US version of Repair & Protect and why there was such a lackluster product rollout. GSK refused to provide an interview opportunity. Instead, I had to settle for an insipid exchange of emails with GSK’s media contact for North America consumer products, Deborah Bolding.
Bolding wrote to me, “Sensodyne Repair and Protect is a new product here in the US and does not contain NovaMin. The FDA approved the formulation. We work with regulatory authorities in each market on formulations for the specific product to be marketed and sold in that specific market. There are variances by market depending on the local regulatory body and other factors.”
When I asked for examples of other markets where Repair & Protect doesn’t contain 45S5/NovaMin, she didn’t respond other than to write, “As mentioned earlier, formulations vary by market because each market has its own regulatory authorities.”
When I requested that Bolding supply me contact information of the dentist featured in the testimonial video, Bolding responded, “I am pleased that I could address a number of your questions regarding Sensodyne Repair & Protect here in the US. Unfortunately, further comment will not be available on our strategy, rationale and future plans.”
So, advanced materials aficionados, I am sorry to conclude that if you want to buy Sensodyne Repair & Protect in the US, save your money and buy some Crest. If you want “real” Repair & Protect, you are still going to have to go abroad to buy it.
I am confident the story eventually will emerge about why GSK would invest $135 million in a US startup (NovaMin), but not leverage the technology to create a powerful product in the startup’s home nation—all at the risk of diluting and potentially damaging the Repair & Protect brand reputation outside the US. GSK is a publicly traded company, and maybe analysts and stockholders should start asking.