Apple Inks Major Sapphire Supply Deal With GT Advanced Technologies
With sapphire now a critical piece of two important iPhone features — in the camera lens across the entire iPhone line and, for the iPhone 5s, in the device’s fingerprint recognition home button — Apple is securing a ready future supply of the material by building an Arizona facility to manufacture it.
On Monday, GT Advanced Technologies said it has inked a multi-year agreement with Apple to manufacture sapphire material in Mesa, Arizona. Under the terms of the agreement, GT will purchase and operate the sapphire production equipment that will ultimately be installed in the new Apple plant. In return, Apple is providing GT with prepayments of approximately $578 million, for which GT will reimburse Apple over five years, starting in 2015.
“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,” Apple spokeswoman Kristin Huguet told AllThingsD. “This new plant will make components for Apple products and it will run on 100 percent renewable energy from day one.”
A big deal — in more ways than one. When the facility is up and running it will employ some 700 people, and it’s going to be cranking out a lot of sapphire. As part of the agreement, GT will fast-track development of a next-generation, large-capacity furnace intended to “deliver low-cost, high-volume manufacturing of sapphire material.” That suggests Apple could be looking at sapphire as an element in its next-generation touchscreens.