Apple Patents Sapphire Component Production Method As Manufacturing Facility Ramps Up

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Apple is moving fast on securing intellectual property related to the making and usage of sapphire glass, filing another patent related to the material recently that has been published by the USPTO today (via AppleInsider). Previously we saw Apple file a patent for a method of attaching sapphire glass display windows to a device, and now its looking to insure that its method for manufacturing and shaping the material into forms usable in gadgets are legally protected.

The patent is fairly technical, describing how sapphire can be grown, the collected and polished down into wafers, as well as treated with various coatings including oleophobic coatings (the kind used on the iPhone to prevent fingerprints) and ink masking (presumably to enable printing of logos and other elements on the sapphire). Sapphire is a difficult material to work with in terms of manufacturing electronics, since it’s hardness makes traditional methods of cutting and shaping it more challenging.

Apple’s methods include using lasers to cut the sapphire into usable chunks, and it specifically mentions smartphone displays as one potential application. To get the material to where it needs to be for use in assembling phones and other devices, it describes a means by which it’s grown and then turned into cores which can be sliced into wafers. Those wafers can be sliced using lasers, which is both cleaner and faster than using machine grinding, which could be a clue into how Apple plans to make manufacturing sapphire components at scale cost-efficient.

A new report from 9to5Mac says that Apple is keen on ramping up its sapphire manufacturing plant in Arizona, which it will be running with GT Advanced Technologies as part of a $578 million deal. The facility should be live by February, according to 9to5Mac, and it will aid in producing “a new sub-component of Apple products,” say documents obtained by the blog. An earlier report also said that Apple manufacturing partner Foxconn was already doing test production runs using sapphire glass screens in assembling iPhones.

Apple gearing up for sapphire use on both the IP and the manufacturing front is a pretty safe sign that we’ll see this component feature prominently in future designs. In terms of timing, it’s likely that at this point we’ll have to wait until late this year before anything reaches consumers, but the wheels are turning, and the result could be much more durable devices.

Photo courtesy flickr user Joey DeVilla.