by Mark Ollig
While Apple Inc. was designing their first iPhone, the choice of using a plastic display screen was being talked about.
Well, once Apple’s boss found out about it, he was, shall we say, “not very happy.”
I read Steve Jobs expressed his displeasure of using a plastic display covering, partly due to its vulnerability to surface scratches.
Plus, in my humble opinion, I think Mr. Jobs may have also thought using a plastic display screen cover was kind of cheesy.
After all, this was going to be Apple’s revolutionary new product offering, and so, a top-quality material for a display screen was required.
Apple needed to use a strong glass display screen which wouldn’t crack.
In Walter Isaacson’s biography on Steve Jobs, it was revealed, while talking with Wendell Weeks, the CEO of Corning Incorporated, Jobs had learned about a special formulated process Corning had developed for making a strength-hardened, scratch-resistant glass.
Weeks explained to Jobs about Corning’s Project Muscle glass initiative, where they experimented in developing a damage-resistant, hardened glass in 1960.
Corning used this initiative to develop Chemcor glass in 1961.
Jobs convinced the Corning CEO to re-tool one of their manufacturing plants, in order to begin production of a hardened glass that could be used on Apple’s upcoming new iPhone.
So, in 2006, Corning re-tooled one of their plants in Kentucky, and rushed to manufacture this stronger glass – which rumor says was based on Project Muscle, and later became known as Gorilla Glass.
In June of 2007, Corning’s glass display screen covers were on the first generation of revolutionary new Apple iPhones.
So here we are in 2014, and once again we are eagerly awaiting Apple’s next revolutionary iPhone; which rumor says will become available this fall.
Rumor also has it this next Apple smartphone will be called the iPhone 6, and will feature a brand-new, much stronger, glass display screen.
This next iPhone may be using a sapphire glass display screen; however, Apple has not confirmed this.
I hope the next iPhone uses sapphire glass, as it is a reported two and one-half times stronger than Corning’s current Gorilla Glass, is highly shatter-proof, and is extremely resistant to breakage and scratches.
Having a sapphire glass screen on a smartphone will provide much more protection against accidental damage, than current glass screens being used.
GT Advanced Technologies’ Crystal Systems division is currently producing sapphire glass exclusively for Apple in its new 1.3 million-square-foot facility in Mesa, AZ.
A video I watched explaining the production of sapphire glass, states no other material – except for diamond – is harder.
I learned the process for producing sapphire glass starts with what is called a “sapphire seed.” Its shape looks very much like a white hockey puck.
This sapphire seed is placed on the bottom of a rounded, molybdenum refractory-metal barrel called a crucible.
A mixture of condensed corundum (a crystalline form of aluminum oxide), and left over crystallized sapphire material from previous productions called “crackle,” is added into the crucible.
The crucible barrel is then placed inside a furnace. There, it sits on a small platform cooled by liquid helium, which keeps the sapphire seed from melting too early in the production process.
The furnace is sealed, and the air inside is removed.
Inside the heated furnace, the temperature reaches almost 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit, which is significantly hot, especially when you consider the Space Shuttle, upon re-entering the Earth’s atmosphere, would experience temperatures of around 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit.
Under this extreme heat, the materials inside the crucible melt together.
Throughout the next 16 to 17 days, the materials are put through various cooling cycles.
During this time, the sapphire will slowly crystallize from the bottom to the top.
The final product is a cylinder-shaped piece of industrial sapphire called a boule, weighing around 250 pounds.
To me, it looked like a large, cylindrical, piece of ice.
This newly-manufactured sapphire glass boule is then inspected, and repeatedly polished for added strength.
The clean glass core sections are drilled out from the newly-manufactured sapphire, and are cut into patterns for use in applications such as an aircraft’s windows and electronic display screens, store bar-code sensors, and possibly, very soon – iPhone display screen covers.
For a smartphone display and large computing tablet glass covers, a rectangular piece of sapphire material would be cut to the specifically-sized proportions needed, re-polished, and then sliced into the correct thickness.
Holes would be punched out for a smart device’s speakers and button locations.
The rectangular piece of sapphire would then be rounded to the correct size needed for use as the protective glass cover for the specific smart device it is to be used for.
Apple is currently using sapphire glass on their iPhone 5S rear camera lens, fingerprint sensor, and home button.
It is rumored Apple’s much purported new “iWatch” will also be using a sapphire glass cover.
So, it seems the 23rd century formula for “transparent aluminum” Scotty mentions in “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home” has been somewhat re-created here in the 21st century using specially manufactured sapphire glass.
A news video about Apple’s manufacturing plant in Mesa, AZ, where GT Advanced Technologies is producing the sapphire glass, can be seen at: http://tinyurl.com/bytes-mesa1.
From sapphire boule to display screen