updated 05:00 pm EST, Thu February 6, 2014
Leaked shipping data points to factory working on display tech
GT Advanced's sapphire plant in Mesa, Arizona -- built to produce goods for Apple -- appears poised to produce anywhere between 100 million and 200 million five-inch display covers, a new report suggests. Import records show that in January, the company acquired machines labeled as Intego Sirius Sapphire Display Inspection Tools. The machines are large, and able to process several slabs of screen covers at once.
While GT has had other clients in the past, a recent SEC filing reveals that the company is barred from supplying sapphire products to any consumer electronics company other than Apple without its permission, or even share aid/licenses with those companies. GT has moveover ordered a number of factory parts within the last few months, such as furnaces and chambers needed to turn raw sapphire into "boules" that can be further cut and processed.
The firm has received about 518 furnace/chamber units so far, and has another 420 on order. The first 518 alone could be used to produce between 103 and 116 million five-inch displays, according to analyst Matt Margolis. The remaining machines could add capacity for another 84 to 94 million screens. To fuel the enterprise, GT has ordered over 100 tons of graphite.
Earlier speculation held that the plant might just be for the sapphire used in Touch ID sensors and/or camera cover glass. Sapphire is an expensive material, but could be extremely useful in iPhone displays, since it would allow as much or more protection than Gorilla Glass in a thinner layer.