Modern, premium foldable smartphones are redefining consumer priorities toward durability, slimness, and weight, making ultra-thin glass (UTG) and colorless polyimide (CPI) the preferred materials for flexible covers.
TrendForce’s recent report on OLED technology and its market trends reveals that UTG has secured over 90% market share in the newest foldable models. This trend indicates robust growth of UTG’s market value to US$360 million in 2023, with hopes of reaching US$600 million in 2024.
The contradiction between CPI’s transparency and its high-temperature resistance, along with the need for improvement in scratch resistance and surface feel, remained significant issues. UTG stands out for its revolutionary thinness, maintaining the traditional durability of glass while offering the flexibility needed for foldable phones. This material boasts excellent light transmission and hardness—maintaining its properties even when thinned—resulting in less noticeable creasing on the phone’s screen.
UTG production is a sophisticated process that can be divided into single-step and secondary processing techniques depending on whether the manufacturer can self-produce thinner base glass. SCHOTT’s single-step non-contact narrow-gap continuous down-draw method stands out for consistently producing 30 um or thinner glass. However, the glass surface will come into contact with the narrow gap during the production process, necessitating the addition of flow improvers to address surface evenness. Corning’s overflow down-draw method, on the other hand, involves no external contact, resulting in a cleaner and smoother glass surface without the need for further grinding and polishing.
The glass produced by these methods can be directly used in screen cover plates. In an effort to disrupt monopolies and close the price gap with CPI, Zhao Hong Precision has the latest release"CHIYAN-U1 Ultra-Thin Flexible Glass", achieving remarkable thinness. Additionally, Tengyu Photoelectric has launched the first single-step UTG production line, marking a significant milestone in foldable phone technology.
Secondary chemical processing methods provide a viable alternative for glass manufacturers unable to directly product ultra-thin base glass at scale. Companies like Wuku Token Sciences and Kasen Glass have made significant strides in establishing substantial mass production capabilities, becoming primary UTG suppliers for Huawei and Honor’s foldable screens. Going forward, UTG suppliers must overcome challenges related to the plastic feel of the anti-shatter coating and yield issues arising from irregular cutting and hole drilling.
TrendForce believes that in the medium to long term, CPI, due to its mature mass production technology and cost advantages, will likely remain a popular choice for mid-sized foldable products. However, UTG suppliers will not only need to enhance the texture of their anti-shatter coatings but also overcome SCHOTT’s monopoly on sub-30 um base materials. The future cost of UTG will largely depend on the few who control the production of thinner base glass and the efficiency of secondary thinning processes.
Foldable phones are evolving to become thinner and more durable, surpassing flagship models in functionality and design. Coupled with maturing processes and a more complete supply chain, TrendForce anticipates a gradual reduction in key material costs and overall production expenses. These conditions set the stage for significant and sustainable market growth in the foldable phone sector.
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