Fostering success within the global glass science ecosystem

For the past decade, Gary Calabrese, Senior Vice President, Global Research at Corning Inc has successfully specialised in glass science innovation. The following exclusive interview identifies his background and career highlights, as well as the challenges and opportunities facing Corning as one of the world’s leading materials science innovators.

Corning Inc,

Corning is acknowledged as one of the world’s leading innovators in materials science, with a track record of life-changing inventions. The company applies unparalleled expertise in glass science, ceramics science and optical physics, along with its deep manufacturing and engineering capabilities, to develop products that transform industries and enhance lives. Success is achieved through sustained investment in RD&E, a combination of material and process innovation and strong relationships with customers who are global leaders in their industries.

In his 10 years with Corning, Gary Calabrese has focused primarily on innovative glass-type work. He led the company’s photovoltaic programme, while his more recent role in research has a major focus on glass. “Whether you’re talking traditional glass, which is melted from raw material, or synthetic glass - and fibre is glass – a lot of what we focus on revolves around glass science” he explains.

While at high school in New Jersey, mathematics and science were always his favoured subjects, leading to an undergraduate degree in chemistry from Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania and a PhD from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). The person responsible for leading Gary Calabrese to MIT was Professor Mark Wrighton, who is now a board member at Corning but was a professor at the renowned research university in Cambridge, Massachusetts at that time. “He came to Lehigh and gave a seminar while I was a student” Dr Calabrese recalls. “I immediately became enamoured with his research and an interview was arranged for me while he was on campus. We spoke for over an hour and I let him know I’d be applying to MIT. To this day, we still have Mark Wrighton associated with Corning, so it’s pretty cool, actually!”

Another of Professor Wrighton’s students at MIT, albeit a couple of years earlier, was Dr David L Morse, who has been Corning’s Chief Technology Officer and Executive Vice President since 2012. Although Gary Calabrese and David Morse had never met during their time at MIT, Mark Wrighton subsequently recruited them both to become advisors to the McDonnell’s International Scholar Programme at Washington University in St Louis, a programme he was running in the early 2000s. It was as a result of this interaction that Dr Calabrese started to learn about Corning and some of its innovative research work. At the time, he was Chief Technology Officer at the specialty chemicals giant, Rohm and Haas.

Joe Miller was CTO at Corning before David Morse and reached out regarding a work opportunity. “Why don’t you consider coming here?” he said “We need help in innovation and you have great experience. You could add to the depth of our innovation by building off your experience with Rohm and Haas.” As a result, Gary Calabrese took up the challenge and relocated to Corning, New York at the beginning of 2008. He confirms that the decision has lived up to his expectations. “Corning has had a great run during my tenure and more importantly, we are launching some exciting new products in drug packaging, advanced glass for automotive interiors and a new type of filter for gasoline vehicle emissions” he says.

Career progression

Having led the early stage innovation team within New Business Development, with responsibility for five different programmes at Corning, Dr Calabrese was asked to focus on photovoltaics, before returning to New Business Development when Mark Newhouse retired.

Shortly thereafter, Joe Miller announced his retirement as Chief Technology Officer and David Morse was chosen as his replacement. In turn, Gary Calabrese was named as David Morse’s successor as head of research at Corning, a position he enjoyed for five years.

As Senior Vice President, Global Research, Dr Calabrese does everything he can to ensure that the organisation fulfills its mission. This embraces talent acquisition and deployment, project selection and funding. “In terms of the organisation’s mission, the primary part is to ensure we innovate by making inventions that can be made into great products. A second part of the mission is to help with aspects of the innovation process that go beyond the initial invention, essentially helping the company reduce the invention to practice in the factory, so we can sell product.”

According to Gary Calabrese, one of the most compelling and enjoyable facets of working at Corning is the potential for growth opportunities through technology. “The opportunities are almost endless, which has both good and bad sides. It challenges you to make decisions and to be efficient in your decision-making process. It is exciting to have a lot of opportunity; however, it also brings a level of stress for the company - and me personally - to have so many things going on at the same time. I can’t complain too much though… it’s not a bad problem to have! It’s exhilarating to think of all the opportunity that exists for Corning.”

Developing products and processes

The company is working constantly to build its credibility with new customers in very different markets, as well as engineering the necessary equipment to make its evolving product lines. “It’s one thing to make a part that works so that the customer says: “I like this, I’ll buy it”. It’s another thing to make equipment to scale at a good cost!”

In many cases, existing manufacturing equipment is unsuitable, requiring the company to adopt dramatic modifications or start from scratch. “We’ve always been about challenges, however and we’ve always invented new manufacturing equipment” Gary Calabrese contends. “That’s been our history. It’s not anything new but I would say the speed of it and the enormity of it is probably greater than it’s ever been. For one thing, we are a larger company than we were 30 or 40 years ago. We’ve got more things to do, so just the scale of what we are doing is larger.”

As well as representing one of Corning’s biggest challenges, this scenario provides exciting opportunities.

Corning’s continued commitment to create its own manufacturing technology provides control of the business at a level that provides significant advantages over potential competitors. “They can always get in but you just make it hard and slow, giving you enough time to stay ahead of the curve” says Dr Calabrese. “That’s what Corning has been so successful with: We get in, create the market or the product that’s groundbreaking and establish ourselves as an industry leader. We do this by working with our supply chain partners and customers to develop the technology, process and products. Our relationships help us become first to market.”

A source of great pride for Corning’s Senior Vice President of Global Research is the string of innovations created for the Gorilla Glass product line. “Just when you think we can’t make the glass any more resistant to breakage, we come out with a product that is a step change. I am also proud of what we did over the past few years in HPD glass for displays. We have a very successful product line called Eagle XG but new processing for advanced displays required us to make a step change in the thermal performance and we once again came out with a market leading product.”

Globally, Corning employs some 3000 engineers and scientists to create its latest innovations, with staff located in Asia, California, Europe and of course, at the company’s headquartered in Corning, New York. This includes Dr Calabrese’s specialist research team, which is responsible for the identification of new market opportunities and the development of a long-term innovations strategy. The team is focused on using new innovation tools to make better decisions and improve the way plans are executed. In addition, they deliver inventions required for current product lines and help push new products into Corning factories by working with engineers who scale up and provide factory implementation.

The collaboration of different business units and functions to the delivery of goals is extremely important. “We don’t and cannot work in a vacuum” says Gary Calabrese. “We collaborate on almost every aspect of what we do.” Every Corning business sector is tasked for sales-led earnings growth and depending on their growth rates and prospects, they get to invest different amounts in innovation. All sectors are understood to be investing aggressively, however.

Industry visibility

Membership of such glass industry trade associations as the Glass Manufacturing Industry Council (GMIC) provides valuable visibility for Corning. “Many of the associations we belong to include current customers, potential customers and competitors” Dr Calabrese explains.

Corning wants to be recognised as an industry leader and an influencer. Associations provide visibility to many target audiences, while also helping the company to identify talented people. “They also give us an opportunity to hear what’s going on, see what else is out there and understand what the next innovation may be.”

Association and conference participation also can lead to valuable future collaborations at a wide variety of levels. Every two years, for example, Corning hosts the ‘Glass Summit’ as a means of ensuring that the glass research ecosystem remains vital and healthy.

According to Gary Calabrese, the Glass Summit is intended to help build and strengthen Corning’s relationships with the academic glass community by stimulating a broader discussion among researchers in academia, funding agencies and other stakeholders around fundamental glass science that targets practical industrial interest. The 2018 meeting aimed to leverage research in adjacent fields that can be applied to glass research, such as plasmonics, mechanical deformation, polymer science, geochemistry and surface characterisation. “This collaboration fosters knowledge sharing and the utilisation of new tools to help us identify new areas of opportunity that will enable the next generation of ‘glass-centric’ innovations” Dr Calabrese concludes.

Ultimately, Corning is an important part of a valuable ecosystem and participates to help improve the industry’s prospects, as well as those of the academic community.

Corning Gorilla Glass, Eagle XG, Corning DuraTrap and Corning Valor are registered Corning products.

Further Information: 

Corning Inc, Corning,
New York, USA
tel: +1 607 974 9000

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