Apple’s Arizona sapphire plant said to be gearing up to build 5″ iPhone displays

GT Advanced (furnaces, Pocketnow 001)

We’ve known since last fall that Apple was teaming up with GT Advanced to open up a sapphire crystal manufacturing plant in Mesa, Arizona. But up until now, it’s been unclear exactly what components it would be making. Camera lenses? Touch ID covers?

Well according to a new report from 9to5Mac, the plant is gearing up to build iPhone displays. Citing import/export and other records, the site says that the Mesa plant has just procured enough equipment to make over 100M ~5-inch iPhone displays this year…

Here’s the first big piece of evidence provided by 9to5Mac’s Mark Gurman, a description of the sapphire display inspection tools GT Advanced just ordered:

“Lowering manufacturing and fabrication costs of sapphire is a key driver for accelerating the adoption of its use in new market segments such as cover screens for smartphones and mobile devices. GT Advanced Technologies is working with key downstream technology providers to optimize fabrication processes and technologies to lower the cost of sapphire cover screen material.

GT is partnering with Intego GmbH to develop a series of automated sapphire inspection tools that will increase the yield of high quality sapphire material from each boule and ensure that only high quality material enters the value stream. The SIRIUS Slab automated sapphire inspection tool begins a new level of repeatability and performance throughput to the production of sapphire material intended for high volume markets such as mobile and touch screen devices.”

This, according to Gurman, seemingly confirms that the Arizona plant isn’t just building covers for Touch ID Home buttons and iSight camera lenses. He also provides proof found in an SEC filing that suggests that whatever it’s making is for Apple and no one else.

Finally, the report notes that GT Advanced has ordered over 500 sapphire furnace and chamber systems, as well as other materials for manufacturing. Essentially, Apple has what it needs there to build more than 100 million [roughly] 5-inch iPhone displays in 2014.

We don’t know much about Apple’s next smartphone outside of what we’ve heard in the rumor mill. It seems like most folks agree that the screen will get a size bump, alongside the usual performance and camera improvements, and it’ll launch sometime in Q3 or Q4.