German glass manufacturer Schott woos China’s smartphone makers

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 22 February, 2017, 8:41pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 22 February, 2017, 10:07pm

German glass manufacturer Schott is in talks with top Chinese smartphone makers to provide its new environmentally-friendly, ultra-thin glass product for use in consumer devices.

Schott on Wednesday unveiled its latest ultra-thin glass offering AS 87 Eco, claiming that it is the first ultra-thin glass product produced without the use of harmful acids such as hydrofluoric acid during its manufacturing process.

China is one of the fastest growing markets for Schott, seeing about 17 per cent growth in the last three years, according to Stefan Laetsch, Schott’s chief executive for Asia.

As China struggles with pollution issues, the government has taken a stronger stance against reducing pollution, and Schott has also seen increased acceptance and interest in its “green” glass products.

“We have a huge sensitivity [towards] environmentally-friendly production ... if we are able to bring to market a leading technology and be environmentally-friendly, this is highly accepted and appreciated by our customers,” said Laetsch.

Schott’s AS 87 Eco glass can be thinned down to 30 micrometres, at a width that is thinner than a human hair, the company said. Applications for the glass include covers for fingerprint sensors, camera chips or lenses, as well as a protective glass for smartphone displays.

But the thinness of the glass also allows for future innovations in the curved displays of virtual reality or augmented reality headsets, Laetsch said, with ultra-thin glass coverings potentially making such headsets lighter and even more stylish.

He also said that China, as a global manufacturing powerhouse, often helped to drive innovation by requesting custom-made products

“The requests and timeline from Chinese customers are sometimes challenging as they have short innovation cycles of just three to four months at times, and we have to adapt to that speed,” said Laetsch, who pointed out that such device makers now place an emphasis on innovation instead of imitating other brands.

“We have seen our Chinese customers become more aware of IP [intellectual property] protection, all of which is quite different from 15 to 20 years ago.”

Chinese smartphone makers in recent years have rapidly gained market share at home, as they sought to shake off the reputation that Chinese devices are cheaply made and of poorer quality compared to overseas competitors.

Domestic smartphone brands Oppo, Huawei and Vivo occupied the top three rankings in the Chinese smartphone market during the fourth quarter, collectively accounting for more than 50 per cent of market share, according to market research firm IDC.

To appeal to Chinese consumers, China’s smartphone makers are also increasingly using premium components in their devices.

Huawei declined to comment on partnerships with its suppliers. Oppo and Vivo did not immediately respond to queries from the South China Morning Post.

In February last year, Huawei and German optics company Leica announced a partnership to improve smartphone photography. As a result, the smartphone maker has incorporated Leica technology into its high-end smartphones such as the Huawei P9.

Handset brands such as Xiaomi, Oppo and Vivo also frequently use US chipmaker Qualcomm’s processors in their smartphones.