Apple begins sending sapphire to China as iPhone 6 production ramps up

GT Advanced (furnaces, Pocketnow 001)

Apple announced last fall that it was opening up a new crystal sapphire production plant in Mesa, Arizona with partner GT Advanced Technologies. It’s believed that the company is using the facility to make sapphire display covers for the upcoming iPhone 6.

Adding weight to the theory is a new report claiming that GT shipped small quantities of sapphire from Arizona to one of Apple’s partners in China this month. The news comes as manufacturers are believed to be ramping up production on the next-gen iPhone…

Here’s the report from UBS Research via 9to5Mac:

Checks find GT’s Arizona factory likely stared producing sapphire last month. Our own checks found that for the first time GT shipped some small quantities of sapphire made in its Arizona fab to one of Apple’s partners in China who is in charge of making sapphire covers. Our checks find the amount of ingots it sold into China last month was only about 2,200kg which would be in line with our estimate of about 100 sapphire furnaces turned on and running (our checks find 100 furnaces were targeted for installation in 4Q13). We believe GT is still on schedule in Arizona, where we estimate GT was to install another 400-500 sapphire furnaces in 1Q14 and 900-1,000 in 2Q14. GT confirmed last week that it received a 3rd prepayment from Apple recently (we estimate the 4th and last prepayment will be made in May) which also gives us confidence that its Arizona sapphire factory for Apple is tracking on schedule.

So why sapphire? Well it’s extremely durable and virtually scratch-proof—making it the perfect candidate for mobile devices. Corning’s SVP Tony Tripeny called it ‘more expensive, heavier, and environmentally unfriendly’ in an interview last month. But he’s biased.

Again we still don’t know for sure what components the GT plant is producing, but the consensus is definitely iPhone screens. In February, it was reported that the Mesa site had procured enough equipment to make over 100 million 5-inch iPhone displays this year.

A few weeks ago, Reuters reported that Apple suppliers would begin production of the 4.7-inch iPhone 6 in May, and the larger 5.5-inch model a few months later due to manufacturing issues.