[Image above] About 200 glass scientists attended Corning’s Glass Research Summit, June 1–3 at company headquarters in Corning, N.Y. Credit: Corning Inc.
Two years ago, Corning Incorporated organized a Glass Research Summit as part of its strategy to excite interest in glass science in the academic and national lab research communities. The motivation was to find research partners and, Corning hoped, to attract new talent to the glass industry. The event proved successful with several substantial outcomes.
One of those outcomes was a second Corning Glass Summit, which was held at Corning’s headquarters in Corning, N.Y., June 1–3. Around 200 attendees, about half of which were Corning glass scientists, came to the by-invitation event.
“This year’s Corning Glass Summit served to highlight many of the recent programs designed to help promote the field of glass science, including the new Gordon S. Fulcher Sabbatical Program, the Corning Glass Age scholarship, and the Functional Glass Manufacturing Innovation Consortium initiative led by the American Ceramic Society,” says John Mauro, senior research manager at Corning and summit co-organizer.
Full disclosure: I was there to present an update on the latter program, the Functional Glass Manufacturing Innovation Consortium (more on that below), which is another outcome tracing back to the first summit.
Corning’s chief technology officer, David Morse, reiterated the impact of engineered glass in the marketplace across a broad spectrum of applications. The internet of things, for example, connects our devices to us, to other devices, and to our world.
It seems no activity is outside the realm of IoT, including reminders to nourish ourselves. Data must be transmitted to serve the 90 billion or so (and growing) wireless devices out there, and optical fibers are among the most effective—and secure—channels for transporting that data.
Data centers, where “the cloud” resides, haul massive amounts of data in and out, also via optical fiber—which is to say that market demand for optical fiber remains strong.
The devices themselves comprise another use for high-tech glasses. Besides the usual smartphones, tablets, and televisions, next-generation devices demand glasses that are thinner, flexible, stronger, lighter, and clearer. Display applications now extend to automobiles and other control center consoles and to curved widescreen televisions for undistorted viewing by everyone.
According to Morse, the market for glass in autos is exploding, not just for display, but for weight reduction, too. “For cars, it’s time for technical glass,” Morse says, describing it as a “… no brainer—why wouldn’t you want to take 20%, 30%, 40% of weight out of a car” by replacing glazing with an ion-exchange strengthened glass?
As proof of concept, Ford used Corning’s Gorilla Glass for the interior-side of the glazing laminate for its 2017 GT supercar and reduced weight by 12 lbs. (Um, yes, I’ll take one!)
And those are just the things we can imagine now. What will be imaginable in the future?
Corning Glass Summit planners elected to challenge the company and its guests by inviting researchers who work on the glassy frontier—chalcogenide glasses, functionalizing fabrics with glass, sol-gel biomaterials, holograms and display technology for virtual/augmented reality, and more. Will their ideas turn into maketable products? Hard to say, but without their disciplined research and creativity, new products are guaranteed not to happen.
Inventing is not enough, however. Gary Calabrese, Corning’s senior vice president, Global Research, noted that inventions aren’t innovations until they can be made. In other words, manufacturability matters. “If you can’t manufacture it, an invention is just interesting. It becomes an innovation when it has economic value,” he says.
It was a timely observation for ACerS as it approaches the midpoint of its two-year grant from the NIST Advanced Manufacturing Technology program to plan the Functional Glass Manufacturing Innovation Consortium (FGMIC). FGMIC emerged, in part, out of the first Glass Research Summit, where ACerS leaders saw a role for the Society.
“We saw that there was a role for the Society to support industry and our corporate membership, and at the same time integrate our academic and national lab constituents,” says Charlie Spahr, ACerS executive director.
The consortium’s goal—and name—echoes Calabrese’s premise that manufacturing is integral to innovation. Indeed, the first task of the project is to develop an advanced manufacturing technology roadmap. To that purpose, ACerS partnered with Nexight Group, a strategy consultancy based in Silver Spring, Md., to develop an advanced technology roadmap via state-of-the art evaluation and stakeholder workshops.
With the scope of state-of-the-art defined, ACerS conducted two technology roadmapping workshops—November 2015 in Columbus, Ohio, in conjunction with the Glass Problems Conference, and May 2016 in Madison, Wis., in conjunction with the Glass and Optical Materials Division meeting.
Workshop participants came from all points along the functional glass value chain, including manufacturers, suppliers, research providers, and end-users. Preliminary workshop outcomes point to several emergent themes—characterizing materials: structure and properties; predicting performance; optimizing manufacturing processes; and workforce development and coordination. Each theme represents a collection of distinct technology gaps, such as modeling and simulation infrastructure, high-temperature sensors, and next-generation refractories.
“The key question for the consortium is ‘How can we build on existing national initiatives and roadmaps to move R&D solutions from the lab ‘across the street’ to the plant floor?’,” Eileen De Guire said in her presentation at the Research Summit.
The advanced manufacturing technology roadmap for functional glasses is scheduled for release October 2016. As the project enters its second year, ACerS will turn its attention next to establishing a sustainable business model for the consortium that addresses funding and intellectual property and provides value to industry. Plans are to launch FGMIC in mid-2017.
Corning plans to organize a third summit in 2018.