Apple to Open Another US Factory: A Sapphire Plant in Mesa, Arizona

Pocket-lint: Here’s Apple on the new US factory in Arizona:

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.

Components for Apple. I wonder which components? GT Advanced Technologies answered that for us in a press release:

The company also announced that it has entered into a multi-year supply agreement with Apple Inc. to provide sapphire material. GT will own and operate ASF furnaces and related equipment to produce the material at an Apple facility in Arizona where GT expects to employ over 700 people. Apple will provide GT with a prepayment of approximately $578 million. GT will reimburse Apple for the prepayment over five years, starting in 2015.

Although the agreement does not guarantee volumes, it does require GT to maintain a minimum level of capacity. GT will be subject to certain exclusivity terms during the duration of the agreement. GT expects this arrangement to be cash positive and accretive to earnings starting in 2014.

Sapphire material. Apple currently uses sapphire for two things. One is the new Touch ID fingerprint sensor in the iPhone 5s:

That required a team of biometric experts and hardware engineers to rethink how sensor technology works and redesign the iconic Home button. Made from laser-cut sapphire crystal, the surface of the button directs the image of your finger to a capacitive touch sensor, which reads beneath the outer layers of your skin to get a detailed print.

The other is the a sapphire crystal outermost lens element. Right now those are the two places where sapphire crystal is used. The iPhone 5s uses both, where the iPhone 5c only uses sapphire crystal for the camera lens. Imagine 2014: With new iPhones, new iPads, new iPod touches, and an entirely new product category Apple will need significantly more sapphire crystals if the company decides to integrate Touch ID and sapphire crystal lenses on all of them. But is that all?

Back in March, Jeffrey Van Camp, Digital Trends:

I was easily able to scratch the Gorilla Glass, and shatter it, but couldn’t make a mark on the sapphire. GT Advanced claims that its sapphire is about three times stronger than most chemically strengthened aluminosilicate glass, including Gorilla Glass, Dragontrail glass, soda-lime glass, and Xensation glass.

GT Advanced Technologies showcased sapphire cover glasses for the iPhone at Mobile World Congress 2013 and they are not easily scratchable. Any Apple product currently using Gorilla Glass or similar cover glasses will eventually be replaced with a sapphire cover glass custom made by GT Advanced Technologies. And that includes iPhone, iPad, iPod, and may even include MacBook, iMac, and Cinema Display. Flexible OLED displays are definitely rugged, but a non-flexible LCD with a sapphire cover glass will be just as rugged, if not more. I’m looking forward to my contract expiring next November when iPhone 6 comes out with an unscratchable and unbreakable display. Just have to make sure to keep diamond rings away from it.