Laser Modified Glass may be the Breakthrough needed to accelerate Durable Foldable Displays for Devices like Notebooks
It could be said that 2019 marked the beginning of the foldable device category. Apple has a series of patents on this emerging segment of the market and a new one was revealed earlier today showing that Apple may consider using micro-LED displays for a future foldable device.
Samsung's Galaxy Fold officially launched in Korea yesterday and is coming to the U.S later this month. Huawei's Mate X foldable smartphone, though delayed, should hit the market before Christmas in China and perhaps Europe.
Also this week it was rumored that Wintel is developing foldable notebook & device standards for hardware OEMs, Paving the way for a new wave of Products. Although it's a rumor, it's not much a stretch considering that Intel's Project Athena is gaining steam and Microsoft continues to hammer out patents for foldable devices and hinge mechanisms for foldable devices. Another one surfaced in June 2019.
Earlier this year Lenovo pleasantly surprised the market with a workable prototype of a foldable mini-notebook. Techland was buzzed about the concept. The size of the device makes you think of a folding iPad Pro; something that we wrote about before the mainstream press ran with the idea.
Joshua D. Newman, Intel's general manager of mobile innovation and vice president of the company's Client Computing Group stated earlier this year that the difficulty surrounding foldable notebooks means it will take 'at least some two years' before foldable laptops reach consumers."
Part of the problem is that the folding technology itself isn't as sound as the industry would like to see it. One company working on providing a superior folding display solution is Germany's LPKF Laser & Electronics.
In May, LPKF introduced Laser Induced Deep Etching (LIDE) technology at this year's 'Dis-play Week' trade show in San Jose, California. The company is going to market the product as 'Spring Glass.'
A report on Spring Glass published yesterday stated that there's a high chance that this technology will be used for UTG (Ultra-Thin Glass) foldable Smartphones that will be released next year.
So what is Spring Glass? It's a technology that shoots a laser at foldable glass to make it elastic but does not change any other property of glass. Currently foldable panel manufacturers are testing this technology out to see if it lives up to the hype.
The laser is the key to this technology. Because glass is hard and stiff, it can easily be broken or cracked from physical impact unlike transparent PI (Polyimide). Spring glass technology can supplement such weakness of a cover glass. When a laser is shot at the part of a foldable Smartphone where it is to bend, the glass becomes elastic like rubber.
This technology is special from a standpoint that it only changes one property of glass while not changing the optical properties or even the color of the glass. When the part of a foldable Smartphone where it's to bend contains an elastic property, the amount of pressure that is stressed on the glass will be lowered.
Spring Glass may be limited to use with fold-in designs because in a fold out design the chances of the glass cracking is too high. It could be suitable for future foldable notebooks
LPKF, the inventor of Spring Glass was awarded the ‘SID Honorary Award’, which is given to startup companies that introduce innovative technologies.
LPKF's press release published in Mid-May stated in part: "The production of foldable glass displays has been a great challenge so far. The processing of the so-called backplane with Laser Induced Deep Etching (LIDE) technology now enables manufacturers to come a big step closer to realizing long-lasting foldable displays. Thanks to LIDE, former material- and construction-related obstacles are a thing of the past. The manufacturer can now combine the advantages of thick, rigid glass with those of thin, flexible glass: The laser-modified glass passes through the production process as a stable substrate and subsequently becomes locally flexible for folding." Read more of the press release here.
Is Spring Glass a magic bullet for the foldable device industry? While only time will tell, it appears that the new technology holds promise for certain kinds of applications such as foldable notebooks or fold-in smartphone designs.
Like the Korean article stated, display manufacturers are now in the process of testing the technology out. Big time players are investing time and money in this project because they see it holding tremendous potential.
In the end, if the technology boils down to creatively cutting the glass with a laser, then Apple is already working on that themselves. In late August 2018 Patently Apple posted a report covering the use of laser formed slits on glass in the foldable area of future folding displays. Apple's patent figures presented below proves that out.