Apple planning expansion at Arizona sapphire plant to boost output

Posted:
in General Discussion edited September 2014
Apple and sapphire manufacturing partner GT Advanced Technologies are looking to expand operations at the companies' Mesa, Ariz., facility, possibly to accommodate higher yields for an as-yet-unknown component, AppleInsider has learned.

Mesa


While construction of the joint Apple-GT Advanced sapphire manufacturing facility is not yet complete, multiple companies are already posting bids to build out a proposed expansion, according to people close to the project.

The plant and its grounds, collectively dubbed "Project Cascade," occupies an 83-acre plot of land in the City of Mesa's designated foreign trade zone. As seen above, a large main structure takes up a majority of available space, while parking lots, support structures and various equipment fill in the surrounding area. There is talk that the current site may be extended into an area directly behind Cascade, one person said.

According to the most recent public records published by the U.S. International Trade Administration, adjacent parcels of land appear to be vacant and are large enough to replicate the size of Apple's existing facility.

Although the exact purpose of the second unit is unknown, the build would likely be similar to Cascade's building as project planners are said to be fielding bids from existing construction companies and material suppliers. Firms actively working on the project include Rosendin Electric, Wesco Distribution and Graybar Electric, among others.

FTZ
Aerial view of Apple's Subzone 221A in Mesa's foreign trade zone. | Source: ITA


Despite being under construction, the plant is powered by a massive array of temporary generators and is already churning out product. Nearby the power bank is what looks to be a type of mini substation that will be used to pull electricity from the city's power grid, while two large chiller units pump coolant into the building to keep temperatures stable.

Based on current projections, construction will be finished no later than June, at which time manufacturing should reach full capacity.

Maximum output is largely unknown, but the site will be equipped with some 1,700 furnaces to make sapphire boules in bulk, sources said. Previous reports citing import/export records claimed the number of furnaces in use would be capped at around 950.

Documents supplied to the U.S. International Trade Administration in January suggested Apple was moving to aggressively ramp production of a "critical" sapphire component by the end of February. The filing also stated that all sapphire material produced at the facility is to be shipped outside the U.S. for final assembly, but offered no details on output capacity or part descriptions.

Mesa
A "mini electrical substation" and bank of power generators (right) sits across from the main production facility.


Sapphire, a crystalline form of aluminum oxide, can also be used to create an advanced virtually unscratchable alternative to silicon dioxide conventional glass. It's a potential alternative to Corning's potassium-enhanced Gorilla Glass, which Apple currently uses in its iPhone screens. Sapphire can be made thinner, and therefore lighter, but has historically also been more expensive.

Sapphire seems to be the buzzword du jour as industry analysts and mainstream media outlets continue to speculate about Apple's plans for the exotic material. Most rumors focus on iOS device displays or components for a much-rumored iWatch, though hard evidence supporting either theory has yet to emerge.

Apple first experimented with manufactured sapphire with the iPhone 5, when it used the material as a cover for the rear-facing camera. With the latest iPhone 5s, Apple's use of sapphire has been extended to a more critical and functional role as cover glass for the Touch ID fingerprint sensor.

Comments

  • Reply 1 of 17
    haarhaar Posts: 563member
    it's sapphire, Bitches!... "breaking bad meme..."
  • Reply 2 of 17
    SpamSandwichSpamSandwich Posts: 31,499member
    Personally, I'm more interested in the sum of the parts, not so much the individual components.
  • Reply 3 of 17

    Sapphire can be used for so many other things outside of the electronics industry such as the medical profession as micro-scalpels.  No matter what Apple does with the sapphire, G.T. Advanced Technologies should make a fortune being able to ramp up sapphire production the way it is and backed by such a wealthy company.

  • Reply 4 of 17
    shogunshogun Posts: 361member
    "Sapphire" and "bigger" — these are the two controlled leaks that Apple is pushing. And of course they are. Sapphire connects the value of their product to jewels and Bigger starts to postpone people switching to Android for screen size. Well played Apple. Well played.
  • Reply 5 of 17
    jacodbjacodb Posts: 23member
    And in other news Samsung is looking for a place to set up a sapphire production plant for a use even they are not sure of.
  • Reply 6 of 17
    mstonemstone Posts: 11,510member

    Sapphire is better than Gorilla Glass for Apple's purposes because Gorilla Glass is produced by Samsung Corning Advanced Glass, LLC.

  • Reply 7 of 17
    solipsismxsolipsismx Posts: 19,566member
    mstone wrote: »
    Sapphire is better than Gorilla Glass for Apple's purposes because Gorilla Glass is produced by Samsung Corning Advanced Glass, LLC.

    1) Don't you mean Samsung Corning Precision Glass?
    2) I didn't think SCPG was the one that made GG and is different from the Lotus Glass agreement that was forged a couple years ago.
    3) Personally, I don't care if the vendor is a "tool" so long as Apple is using the best "tools" for the job.

    4) I still have some concerns about sapphire replacing the GG on my iPhone, iPad, and Mac displays. I hink that most likely usage we'll see is for something smaller than something larger as a first run production.
  • Reply 8 of 17
    lilgto64lilgto64 Posts: 1,147member
    Is it just me or does that overhead photo look like some sort of cyclotron?

    kinda like this

    ii870618-1.jpg
  • Reply 9 of 17
    cykzcykz Posts: 81member
    lilgto64 wrote: »
    Is it just me or does that overhead photo look like some sort of cyclotron?

    kinda like this

    ii870618-1.jpg

    That sapphire must be really strong!

    EDIT: looks like a cyclotron could actually be useful
    Influence of Ion Bombardment of Sapphire on Electrical Property of GaN Layer
    http://www.scientific.net/SSP.124-126.615
  • Reply 10 of 17
    solipsismxsolipsismx Posts: 19,566member
    lilgto64 wrote: »
    Is it just me or does that overhead photo look like some sort of cyclotron?

    kinda like this

    ii870618-1.jpg

    cykz wrote: »
    That sapphire must be really strong!

    EDIT: looks like a cyclotron could actually be useful
    Influence of Ion Bombardment of Sapphire on Electrical Property of GaN Layer
    http://www.scientific.net/SSP.124-126.615


    LOL I had considered a similar comment but missed my opportunity.


    edit: Maybe they're searching for the Jobs Particle.
  • Reply 11 of 17
    aicowaicow Posts: 18member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by SolipsismX View Post



    4) I still have some concerns about sapphire replacing the GG on my iPhone, iPad, and Mac displays. I hink that most likely usage we'll see is for something smaller than something larger as a first run production.

     

    Apple doesn't use Gorilla Glass for Mac displays. I wonder if you were concern about glass covers replacing plastic covers before Apple came on the scene.

  • Reply 12 of 17
    solipsismxsolipsismx Posts: 19,566member
    aicow wrote: »
    Apple doesn't use Gorilla Glass for Mac displays. I wonder if you were concern about glass covers replacing plastic covers before Apple came on the scene.

    1) If it's not GG or, rather, alkali-aluminosilicate sheet glass, then what type of glass is used for the MBP display and trackpad?

    2) As for being concerned with glass replacing plastic covers before Apple "came on the scene" note that was in 1976 which means my concerns were completely infantile.

    3) I have been concerned with using glass over plastic since Apple announced the use of alkali-aluminosilicate sheet glass in the original iPhone and had a general dislike for cheap plastic for a very long time before that.
  • Reply 13 of 17
    aicowaicow Posts: 18member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by SolipsismX View Post





    1) If it's not GG or, rather, alkali-aluminosilicate sheet glass, then what type of glass is used for the MBP display and trackpad?



    2) As for being concerned with glass replacing plastic covers before Apple "came on the scene" note that was in 1976 which means my concerns were completely infantile.



    3) I have been concerned with using glass over plastic since Apple announced the use of alkali-aluminosilicate sheet glass in the original iPhone and had a general dislike for cheap plastic for a very long time before that.

     

    1) Its just tempered glass from Hony Glass.

     

    2) I meant "came on the scene" to replace plastic and I believed you understood that.

     

    3) Have you been concerned about watch crystals cracking when they started switching to sapphire?

  • Reply 14 of 17
    solipsismxsolipsismx Posts: 19,566member
    aicow wrote: »
    1) Its just tempered glass from Hony Glass.

    2) I meant "came on the scene" to replace plastic and I believed you understood that.

    3) Have you been concerned about watch crystals cracking when they started switching to sapphire?

    1) I don't know there was non-alkali-aluminosilicate glass that could be made so thin and be so bendable. Do you have any proof that it's this Hony Glass?

    2) I didn't understand that hence my query. As previously noted I was far too young and probably too much of a "jive turkey" to use terms like "came on the scene."

    3) If I had a working interest about luxury watches -and- sapphire crystal replacing regular glass came about during this imagined interest I should would have asked questions about the pros and cons of the materials used. BTW, when was crystal first introduced to a watch face? My assumption was that it predates the birth of everyone on this forum.
  • Reply 15 of 17
    aicowaicow Posts: 18member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by SolipsismX View Post





    1) I don't know there was non-alkali-aluminosilicate glass that could be made so thin and be so bendable. Do you have any proof that it's this Hony Glass?



    2) I didn't understand that hence my query. As previously noted I was far too young and probably too much of a "jive turkey" to use terms like "came on the scene."



    3) If I had a working interest about luxury watches -and- sapphire crystal replacing regular glass came about during this imagined interest I should would have asked questions about the pros and cons of the materials used. BTW, when was crystal first introduced to a watch face? My assumption was that it predates the birth of everyone on this forum.

    1) I know iPad glass is manufactured by Asahi, iPhone by Corning, and so I assume that Mac glass is manufactured by Hony (Apple has three glass suppliers). Corning could not possibly be selling glass for Mac use. If you look at the Corning Gorilla Glass revenues at ~1B from 2012, which Apple and Samsung together account for 54%. Impossible Apple is paying so little for both iPhone and Mac glass use.

     

    3) I still have a rolex from the 70s that is an acrylic cover. Sapphire became standard in late 80s.

  • Reply 16 of 17
    kreshkresh Posts: 379member
    I thought the overhead looked more like SimCity with Apple/GT Ad Tech being the first tennent. The streets are layed out kinda like I do with SimCity, lol, one big block with street loops inside the block.

    ….. Now, where's that disasters button.
  • Reply 17 of 17

    The huge circle and tracks you see in the aerial view are from the former General Motors Proving Grounds that were located in Mesa until 2009, which later moved to Yuma, AZ.

     

    Source: http://archive.azcentral.com/closeup/articles/0612gmproving0612.html

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