SCHOTT solutions no. 2/2010 > Touch Panels

Cell phones with touch panels are the latest trend and not just in Asia. Thanks to product development in Suzhou, China, SCHOTT now offers a new cover glass for them (photo left below). Photo: SCHOTT/A. Sell

At Eye Level with Asia

SCHOTT’s Customer Technical Service Centers are proving to be competitive motors for product development. The successful introduction of cover glasses for touch panels is only one example.

Thilo Horvatitsch

Cell phones are certainly no mayflies, but their model life often expires after only about six months. Here, it is all the more surprising that the components used in these short-lived devices must travel through many different countries in order to be manufactured. The supply chains often run through half of Asia, the main region for producing consumer electronics. The individual modules are completed in stages by being sent from one processor to the next. Given the short product cycles in the mobile phone industry, there isn’t much time for this.
Chinese male Student
Photo: SCHOTT/A. Sell
This, in itself, makes application and product development a real challenge, especially for technology companies whose main headquarters and production facilities are not based in Asia. Lutz Grübel can attest to this: “When it comes to technical issues, this industry doesn’t think in terms of weeks, but rather days. Qualified local support is therefore essential,” says the Vice President of Sales & Marketing for SCHOTT’s Home-tech Business Unit in Asia.

The SCHOTT Customer Technical Service Centers (CTSCs) in Asia are increasingly taking over this key local role in direct technical customer support and ­application development. Their service portfolio includes analytical laboratory and measurement services, prototyping and application development, but also establishing contacts to ­research institutes and companies from all over Asia. The first CTSC in Suzhou, China, has been offering this service since the spring of 2007. In the meantime, sites have been added in Minakuchi, Japan, and, most recently, Seoul, South Korea. The qualified CTSC team of engineers, scientists and technicians now consists of around 40 permanent employees and freelancers – and counting.

And there are plenty of good reasons to expand it. Optical technologies like the ones SCHOTT develops and uses are ­becoming innovative pacemakers in many areas of industry. ­According to the trade association Spectaris, the world market for products based on optical technologies was worth more than 210 billion euros a few years ago and is expected to grow to 439 billion by 2015. Potential lies mainly in the areas of consumer electronics and information technology, where Asia is leading the way. Here, China, a country that has grown from being the workbench for countries like Japan, Korea and ­Taiwan to become a region for producing technological developments and a market, offers a lot of chances. And with increased competition in Asia, the responsibilities and importance of the CTSCs that work closely with both sales and customers have continually grown too.
SCHOTT has nine production sites and 13 Corporate & Sales Offices in Asia (including Sales Offices in Tel Aviv/Israel and Dubai / UAE) with around 2,700 employees. Source: SCHOTT/dw
The lithium aluminosilicate glass SCHOTT LAS80 offers high chemical and mechanical resistance and excellent surface quality. Photo: SCHOTT/ R. Weitnauer
This can be seen in an exciting major project: marketing of SCHOTT LAS80, a new, extremely scratch resistant, shatter-proof cover glass for touch panel applications (see info box). This lithium aluminosilicate glass is already being used in the highly resistant front windows of high-speed trains and is now being produced in thin glass quality as well. The German site in Jena has all of the melting and production know-how this requires. “But, application development would never have been possible without our Customer Technical Service Centers in Asia,” notes Lutz Grübel, who heads the program on marketing SCHOTT LAS80. The CTSC team has been working on cover glasses for some time and was instrumental in defining the requirements for ­further processing SCHOTT LAS80, as well as samples and ­technical training. The objective was to modify the processing parameters for this material to suit the customers’ production lines and perform the appropriate tests – a vital prerequisite to technical implementation in the marketplace. The goal was to meet this challenging demand together with the key players in the supply chain, in other words the main customers, but also processors and suppliers from Korea, China and Taiwan. “We have technical measurement systems and applications expertise here that are unique in the group,” says Dr. José Zimmer, Vice President of SCHOTT Asia in charge of the CTSCs.

This know-how has also made a major contribution towards the success of applications. Commercialization of SCHOTT LAS80 together with well-known Asian manufacturers of cell phones is underway. Large scale production of glass is scheduled to start in the spring of 2011. For SCHOTT, this represents a promising business because touch-sensitive screens are becoming increasingly popular. Global proceeds from the sale of touch screen modules climbed to 4.3 billion dollars already in 2009. The market research firm DisplaySearch expects sales to increase by 18 percent per year to 14 billion dollars by 2016.

The SCHOTT CTSCs will continue to grow as a result of these developments. “In the meantime, we are working for almost every SCHOTT Business Unit and plan to intensify the development of applications and products in specific fields even further. We will be adding new personnel in certain areas to achieve this,” José Zimmer says. Lutz Grübel also stands to ­benefit: “The comments from our Asian customers clearly show that sales are not the only area that is benefiting from working with the CTSCs. Many of our customers are surprised by how quickly we are able to react at the technological level.” At eye level with the local competition.

Attractive glass for the touch panel market

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