Global shipments of 3D touch panel cover lens, which include front- and rear-cover glass for electronic devices, are expected to reach 223.5 million units in 2018, up 48.6% year-over-year (y/y). The growth will remain strong in the next couple years, with a 59.1% and 22.2% y/y increase in 2019 and 2020, respectively, according to the Touch Panel Cover Glass Market Report by IHS Markit.
Although the 3D display cover lens market has grown significantly in 2017, most Chinese brands have rarely adopted the cover lens due to the limited supply capacity.
The 3D display cover lens needs a heat molding process, which is critical but with technical difficulties. Heating the glass to the softening point of about 800ºC (or 1,472ºF) gives a huge challenge to the equipment and mold, which causes limited supply of 3D display cover lens and its high price tag. Theoretically, it is available to make a 3D cover lens by computerized numerical control (CNC) forming, without the heat molding process. But it requires high investment in the CNC equipment and makes the forming process even longer and more difficult. It is not efficient at all for mass production.
This situation started improving in the last quarter of 2017 when cover glass finishers began to increase process time, spending more time in heating and cooling the glass instead of rapidly heating and cooling. Their sacrifice of “efficiency” has improved the yield rate. With the gradual improvement in supply capacity, Chinese brands started applying 3D display cover lens to their flagship products, particularly to the rear.
In addition, because of curved edge sides, cosmetic process for the 3D display cover lens is also a big challenge. The traditional silk-screen printing method is widely used for cover glass cosmetic, especially for 2D and single-sided 2.5D display cover lens with a simple pattern. However, it is not available for 3D display cover lens with complicated patterns. Cover glass finishers are developing new methods to give good viewing experience on 3D panel cover lens, such as physical vapor deposition (PVD) or non-conductive vacuum metallization (NCVM), transfer printing, photoetching process, decorative film, among others. IHS Markit believes that the NCVM has a great potential in terms of cost and performance.
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