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Apple to Build Sapphire Glass Manufacturing Plant in Arizona

iphone_5_camera_sapphireApple will build a new 700-employee manufacturing facility in Mesa, Arizona, to make sapphire glass, according to releases from the State of Arizona and GT Advanced, a New Hampshire-based materials manufacturing company. Apple purchased the vacant manufacturing building from First Solar, and has contracted with GT Advanced to "own and operate furnaces and related equipment" at the facility.

The State of Arizona reports [PDF] that the plant will create at least 700 jobs in the first year, plus an additional 1,300 construction-related jobs. Apple will also be investing in new renewable energy projects to power the new facility.

Apple provided a statement to Pocket-Lint confirming the facility:
We are proud to expand our domestic manufacturing initiative with a new facility in Arizona, creating more than 2,000 jobs in engineering, manufacturing and construction. This new plant will make components for Apple products and it will run on 100% renewable energy from day one, as a result of the work we are doing with SRP to create green energy sources to power the facility.
Apple uses small pieces of sapphire glass -- which provides superior durability and scratch resistance to other forms of glass -- to protect the cameras on the iPhone and on the home button for the new Touch ID-equipped iPhone 5s, however this would seem to be an expansion of Apple's sapphire glass efforts. A report from earlier this year suggested that future smartphones may use sapphire, a crystalline form of aluminum oxide, instead of more traditional forms of glass.

Other reports have suggested that Apple has experimented with sapphire displays but found them infeasible. Additionally, Corning has claimed its Gorilla Glass 3 is a better glass solution than sapphire.

One possible destination for Apple's new sapphire glass production is in a potential smart watch project. Sapphire is already extensively used in high-end watchmaking and could be more feasible on a small screen than the larger display on a smartphone or tablet.

The move is a major expansion of Apple's own production efforts -- in recent years, Apple has exclusively contracted with third parties to build and supply components for its products. Many pundits have speculated that Apple would begin using its $150 billion cash pile to grow its manufacturing efforts.

The new plant is also noteworthy because it is in the United States. Apple will assemble its first computer in years in the United States at a Flextronics plant in Austin, Texas. Apple is prominently featuring the Mac Pro's manufacturing location in product videos and in the press.

Related roundup: Apple Watch

Top Rated Comments

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14 months ago
"...sapphire, a crystalline form of aluminum oxide..."

So in other words, transparent aluminum? :)
Rating: 24 Votes
14 months ago
How cool. 700 new jobs in America.
Rating: 15 Votes
14 months ago
I'm thinking why all the fuss creating new plant just for sapphire glass ?
why not just use gorilla glass and be done with it.

and then I remember this excerpt from Craig interview in businessweek :

Oftentimes, a product’s design requires manufacturing to solve unreasonable problems. That’s the same as engineering a user interface design. Both are about just solving these crazy problems. But you never get a sense from Tim or from Jeff [Jeff Williams, Apple’s current operations chief] that there’s a question about why are we solving this. Why aren’t we taking an easy way out and sidestepping this problem? It is, “No, this is the right design, and we’re going to do things that no one else in the world has ever tried to do in order to get it right.”


Good stuff Apple !
Rating: 13 Votes
14 months ago
If the entire plant is made from sapphire, it's going to be way too expensive!
Rating: 8 Votes
14 months ago
I think Sapphire is a great material. A great choice for a lens cover but using it as a cover glass is a whole different game...
The refractive index is different from soda lime glass (or gorilla glass) so it needs to be treated both front and back with expensive AR coatings. I have an Omega SMP with this AR coated Sapphire and while beautiful, it would be abraded while in pockets, even although the crystal itself would likely remain unscratched (my watch has the sapphire recessed slightly to alleviate this issue).
The other big issue (and why the Omega Speedmaster's - the moon watch - don't use sapphire and instead use a polymer called Hesalite) is Sapphire, while very hard and scratch resistant is prone to shattering. (Having splinters of crystal in zero-g isn't good).
So chances are dropping your stunning new iPhone 6 would result in an expensive repair bill.
I do believe there have been phones made with Sapphire Crystal displays.
Also cost is the other big issue. I imagine this is for lens covers, touch sensitive home buttons and other Apple part covers. Gorilla Glass is pretty dam good at what it does, Sapphire would just trade increased scratch resistance for decreased tensile strength.
Rating: 7 Votes
14 months ago
I'd love to see the front glass replaced with sapphire. Or I'd at least love to see them mess around with the idea. I don't actually know what I'm talking about with this stuff, I guess.

Either way, the sapphire over the cameras on recent devices have looked great and don't seem to scratch.
Rating: 4 Votes
14 months ago


Also good that some parts for future products will be manufactured in the USA.


Many parts already are.
Rating: 4 Votes
14 months ago
I'm sure it has nothing to do with Samsung owning a large (and getting larger) share of Corning...

http://www.engadget.com/2013/10/23/samsung-acquires-7-4-percent-of-gorilla-glass-maker-corning/
Rating: 4 Votes
14 months ago
I suspect Apple has something other than camera optics or a replacement for Gorilla Glass in mind.

Sapphire is rarely used for optics except as windows. It can't be molded, it's expensive to grind, and it's birefringent. The window on the iPhone camera is so small, it hardly seems like Apple would invest in a dedicated production facility to meet their needs.

Gorilla Glass is less expensive than sapphire and much tougher. Right now, it seems that Gorilla Glass's scratch resistance is good enough, but what's needed is even more toughness than sappier can offer.

Sapphire is used in the manufacture of high power electronics such as radio transmitters, and in the manufacture of high brightness LEDs. While either of these could be important enough to Apple to justify the investment, I suspect the application will tun out to be LEDs for display backlights.

LED backlights show up in every mobile product. The power to run those backlights impacts product size, weight, cost and battery life. And a high tech backlight might be critical to the long rumored Apple TV. They may also have a place in an improved camera flash.

I think improved LED's are exactly the sort of thing that would justify a strategic investment.
Rating: 4 Votes
14 months ago

Are Apple just going "crazy" with building stuff that should be in an art museum ?

Time for Apple to hang up their shoes, and say "Its not about the outside, ts about the inside that counts"


I wouldn't care less what the outside looked like, just as long its Apple.

I bet Microsoft people are laughing like hell over the amount Tim blew away on this one.

I know their products are fashionable, but why do their buildings have to be too ? Its only a building, not a $50,000 mansion. ...


What are you talking about?
Rating: 4 Votes

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