The Thinnest-Glass Maker
Mario Haas is Director of Development & Application at the SCHOTT plant in Grünenplan. He is charged with nothing less than promoting product development and approach new fields of application. One of his biggest challenges in the past few years has been the project “AS 87 eco” – an ultra-thin glass that can be produced in a thickness of down to 25 μm, developed in close collaboration with colleagues in China. The glass is now in mass production at the Grünenplan site under the supervision of the glass experts in SCHOTT’s Grünenplan plant. In the meantime Haas is working on the next progress.
Anyone who has ever wondered what materials protect sensitive components such as smartphone camera modules and fingerprint sensors from the challenges of everyday life knows they are in the presence of a true expert when meeting Mario Haas. The engineer runs through various possibilities, mentioning “coatings,” thin and sapphire glass. He quickly lands on an innovative method that he developed to market maturity in close collaboration with his colleagues in China, now in full production since the end of 2016 at the SCHOTT plant in Grünenplan: the new ultra-thin glass SCHOTT AS 87 eco, a resilient and resistant alternative to other protective glasses, has hit the ground running.
“With SCHOTT AS 87 eco, we have developed the first environmentally friendly glass that reliably protects sensitive electronic and optical components in smartphones,” says Haas. “The impetus for the project came from our Chinese colleagues in Suzhou. They had developed the concept of an ultra-thin glass to protect fingerprint sensors, since the materials already on the market for smartphone manufacturers were always a compromise.”
In dialogue with fingerprint sensor manufacturers, the goal was set to achieve an ultra-thin, flexible yet simultaneously strong glass with outstanding technical properties and high environmental compatibility. After several consultations with SCHOTT glass melting experts from central Research and Development, as well as hot-forming specialists, the project was given the green light: the concept was technically feasible.
“From that moment on, we were in a race against time. Every day counted in positioning the product in the Asian market in time. We all know how fast-paced things are around here, and how quickly trends come and go,” explains Mario Haas frankly. Over the next several months, Haas says the team went “the famous extra mile.” The effort paid off: after months of intensive development, SCHOTT AS 87 eco was ready for presentation by late 2016 at the C-Touch trade fair in the “Chinese Silicon Valley” of Shenzhen. There was a great deal of interest at SCHOTT’s booth as journalists vied to see the ultra-thin glass; bending demonstrations were particularly magnetic for the trade fair visitors. “Once you’ve held the ultra-thin glass in your hand, you can’t help being instantly fascinated,” Haas remarks. “You’d swear it’s a plastic film. But it isn’t! When I tell people that what they have in their hands at an impressive 100 micrometers is actually twice as thick for safety reasons as we can draw from the melt, I see their eyes widen in fascination.”
Haas’ fascination for his product is contagious. It should come as no surprise that he visits the melting tank as often as he can, watching over the shoulder of his colleagues at the down-draw facility. “Nobody else in the world can make such thin glass. Only we can handle this process. Yes, that makes me very proud.” It is easy to believe him. Especially once you have held the ultra-thin glass in your hands.