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Apple's New Manufacturing Partner, GT Advanced, Uses Particle Accelerator to Cut Sapphire Glass Production Costs

Apple's new sapphire glass manufacturing partner, GT Advanced, owns some very advanced technology to manufacture extremely thin sheets of sapphire much more cheaply than current methods.

TechCrunch has done some digging and discovered a company called Twin Creeks that GT Advanced acquired late last year. Twin Creeks developed a hydrogen particle accelerator (pictured below) as a cheaper alternative to saws when attempting to slice larger chunks of sapphire for use on electronics.

Particle Accelerator
Twin Creeks’ hydrogen ion particle accelerator (basically an ion cannon) allowed them to place wafers around the edges of the device and smash them with hydrogen ions. Here’s a description of the process from Extreme Tech:

"A particle accelerator bombards these wafers with hydrogen ions, and with exacting control of the voltage of the accelerator, the hydrogen ions accumulate precisely 20 micrometers from the surface of each wafer. A robotic arm then transports the wafers to a furnace where the ions expand into hydrogen gas, which cause the 20-micrometer-thick layer to shear off."

The process, when applied to solar, is then followed up by backing the sheets with flexible metal. The result is a huge reduction in thickness of sheets without the use of saws. This results in a big reduction in costs.
According to the press release GT Advanced released last week, GT expects to see its gross margins to drop significantly as sapphire glass production rises -- as costs go down -- but the overall volume will more than make up for it.

TechCrunch goes on to note a patent that Apple got last year that creates a layered touchscreen with a "hyper-thin sheet of sapphire" combined with much cheaper glass sheets. The sapphire glass could be on the outside of the phone, protecting the screen from scratches, while enjoying the cost-savings of cheaper forms of glass on the rest of the display assembly.
By doing this, Apple could stretch out the production and cost factors of sapphire enough to support manufacturing full-size display cover sheets, not just small wearable panels, buttons or protective camera covers. This, in turn, could mean sapphire cover sheets that are harder and tougher than standard glass materials on your iPhone years sooner than most analysts have predicted.
The new Apple/GT Advanced facility is expected to open in Mesa, Arizona sometime next year.

Top Rated Comments

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14 months ago

I'd love to see the cost of the saws if a hydrogen particle accelerator is the "cheaper" alternative...

Either way very cool that they can do this.


The problem is that the saw blade is relatively thick so that you wind up losing most of the sapphire to the saw cut. Using the proton method there is virtually no wasted material.

Accelerating protons into sapphire is a clever idea. Charged particles in solids lose energy as 1/E. This means that the slower they move the faster they they slow down. This is why they all wind up at roughly the same depth. The protons acquire an electron from the matrix becoming hydrogen. When the boule is heated the gas expands and a thin slice cleaves off the boule.

Interesting that they will layer 20 microns of sapphire over glass. Sapphire is extremely hard but it might not be tough. Perhaps the combination is both scratch resistant and fracture resistant.
Rating: 5 Votes
14 months ago
Pretty impressive looking particle accelerator.

But I'd be more impressed if it were portable (say, backpack sized) and fired a stream of protons which could trap ectoplasmic entities.
Rating: 4 Votes
14 months ago
All that 21st century technology just to receive a phone call from someone to tell you your girlfriend is cheating on you.
Rating: 4 Votes
14 months ago
Tomorrow Samsung will have one too
Rating: 4 Votes
14 months ago
I'd love to see the cost of the saws if a hydrogen particle accelerator is the "cheaper" alternative...

Either way very cool that they can do this.
Rating: 3 Votes
14 months ago
An "ion cannon"? Like from Star Wars?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hy_vDj1bec4
Rating: 2 Votes
14 months ago

Seems like the forums got caught in a particle accelerator accident as well.

Strange that it's such a small device -- the particle accelerators I've seen pictures of are several miles in length and accelerate the particles using pulsed electromagnets. I'm surprised they can accelerate the particles in such a small enclosure and get enough velocity to cut through sapphire!


If my understanding of the technology is correct, the particles don't actually cut the material. The hydrogen particles accumulate on the surface of the sapphire, and then, when heated, they expand and shear off a fragment of the sapphire substrate.
Rating: 2 Votes
14 months ago

Curious, I never knew GT Advanced had a reputation for lack of innovation. Or were you guys attributing their innovative use of a particle accelerator to Apple?:confused:

*shifting gears* I wonder if it will bond to Gorilla Glass to get the best of both worlds?


Came here to say the same thing, you guys know that this has nothing to do with apple, except for the fact that apple is funding the operation, right???
Rating: 2 Votes
14 months ago
My mom was a nurse. I noticed that her watch had a nearly unreadable face due to years of scratches in the workplace.

I bought her a Movado watch with Sapphire crystal better part of 10 years ago.
Still scratch free. It is an incredible material.

(but the gold plate is getting thin!)
Rating: 2 Votes
14 months ago

Pretty amazing innovation for a company that can't innovate anymore.


Twin Creeks can't innovate any more ?? :)

They're the company that published the particle beam saw idea in 2012 for solar cells, and that's why GT Advance bought them the same year.

The combination is what attracted Apple to GT Advance.
Rating: 2 Votes

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