You may or may not know it, but more chances are your smartphone or tablet uses Corning’s glass. Most of us knew first about this company because Gorilla Glass, the strong damage-resistant glass used in these tech gadgets. But, in fact, Corning is a more than 160 years old company that is known both for its combination of material and process expertise and for a long history of collaborating closely with its customers.
For most people, if asked about one of Corning’s customer the one first coming to mind is Apple. This is true but ,interestingly, it is Apple’s main rival Korean Samsung to whom Corning collaborates more deeply since longer.
In 1973, Corning and Samsung, a rising industrial corporation in Korea at the time, formed their first partnership, Samsung Corning, to manufacture and market cathode ray tube (CRT) glass for black and white televisions. Even thought no one could have predicted it then, for some analyst it was this initial partnership the one that would eventually lead to Samsung’s and Corning’s leadership positions in today’s LCD glass market.
In the 1990s, the information display market started to demand a new kind of flat panel display, principally for mobile applications, requiring thin, high-technology glass. Samsung decided to invest boldly in the future and pursue this opportunity. Corning proposed and Samsung agreed to establish an independent equity venture, Samsung Corning Precision Materials, based on the Samsung Corning collaboration model. The company’s first LCD glass substrate manufacturing facility opened in Gumi, Korea in 1996.
Some months ago, Corning announced entering into a series of strategic and financial agreements with Samsung Display intended to strengthen product and technology collaborations between the two companies. Basically, Corning obtained full ownership of Samsung Corning Precision Materials (owning previously 43%) in exchange of stock. Besides strengthening the two companies’ technology collaborations on strategic product development and commercialization initiatives, Corning and SCPM signed a new long-term LCD display glass supply agreement through 2023.
It remains to be seen how this kind of collaboration reinforcement could affect to relationship with other customer considered important rivals in the market, as is the case of Apple. Paradoxically, Corning’s greatest threat may come from this company, precisely because it is one of its biggest Gorilla Glass customers. Some months ago, Apple applied for a patent on a sturdier smartphone screen made with sapphire, already used in its mobile camera cover. The company is also completing a factory in Arizona to be operated by sapphire-crystal maker GT Advanced Technologies. Without doubt, an Apple switch to sapphire screens could be a big blow to Corning.