'Gorilla Glass' for Phones and Tablets Drives Growth at Corning

Apple's iPhone
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Apple's iPhone

Corning is making its Consumer Electronics Show(CES) debut this year. And though it's a newcomer, it's one of the most talked about and prevalent companies at the convention.

This year, the CES is focused largely on touch-screen tablets and smart phones, and Corning makes the material—called Gorilla Glass—that encases nearly all these devices.

From Microsoft's Steve Ballmer to Sony's Howard Stringer, in Motorola and Samsung's presentations, heavy hitters at CES can't say enough about the importance of Corning's thin and durable-glass product.

CES 2011 - Your Digital Life - A CNBC Special Report
CES 2011 - Your Digital Life - A CNBC Special Report

Gorilla Glass is used in 150 different products on the market today—phones, tablets and laptop screens. Over 200 million devices with Gorilla Glass have sold and after just three years on the market it has 20 percent of the phone market.

Corning doesn't talk about who its customers are, but Apple is clearly one of its largest—it uses the glass for its iPhone and iPad. What makes it so useful for touch screens? It's twice as strong and half as thick as competitors' glass. Corning's been demonstrating the durability to CES attendees by encouraging them to scratch it with a key or break it with a metal barit hardly smudges.

In an interview CEO Wendell Weeks tells CNBC that Gorilla Glass is the most exciting growth opportunity in Corning's 150-year history. Last year the product had a $400 million run rate, it's profitable and its growth rate has been doubling annually for the past couple years.

But now, Gorilla Glass is poised to grow even faster. Corning says the market for this type of glass—called cover glass—should quadruple this year.

Gartner projects tablet sales will triple to 60 million in 2011 and smartphones—with Gorilla Glass touch screens—are expected to continue to explode. And now, Gorilla Glass is moving into a new market, which requires bigger pieces of its glass. Here at CES Sony announced that it is featuring Gorilla Glass in its new Bravia TVs.

Corning is making a big effort to establish itself as a key part of consumer devices. In addition to a big booth at CES, where Corning is doing demos and taking meetings with a range of potential new partners, the company is launching a print and online ad campaign for the Gorilla Glass brand.

Weeks says the potential for Gorilla Glass is endless. The company is now molding the glass into shapes, so it could be used in cars. Since the glass so much lighter than traditional glass that lends itself to battery-powered "green" vehicles.

And the company is already experimenting with putting the glass on refrigerators and using it as an architectural material. And now Corning is working on the second generation of the glass, which is even stronger and more flexible, which should open the door to more potential products.

Corning made a name for itself as a brand for cookware products—products it no longer makes—but now it's well on its way to building another kind of consumer brand recognition for Corning yet again.

CES 2011 - Your Digital Life - A CNBC Special Report
CES 2011 - Your Digital Life - A CNBC Special Report