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Apple's Arizona plant could make 'unprecedented' amounts of sapphire

The plant to make strong iPhone screens will open this month with 700 full-time jobs and 1,200 temporary construction jobs, Bloomberg reports.

Apple's iPhone 5S.
Sarah Tew/CNE
Apple's new Arizona factory could manufacture "unprecedented" amounts of synthetic sapphire used to make stronger iPhone screens, according to a report.

The factory will make as much as double the current global capacity of sapphire, according to Yole Developpement analyst Eric Virey, via Bloomberg. That's enough for 80 million to 100 million iPhones a year, the report said.

Arizona Governor Jan Brewer in November announced that Apple was building a factory in Mesa, Arizona, to manufacture sapphire materials. And Apple late last year signed a contract with GT Advanced to produce sapphire-based materials at Apple's new facility in Arizona. The plant should open later this month with 700 full-time workers and 1,200 temporary construction jobs, Bloomberg said.

Apple has already used sapphire for the surface of the rear camera lens for the iPhone 5 and the ID fingerprint sensor in the iPhone 5S. The company is now believed to be planning massive production of synthetic sapphire displays for use in its various gadgets. A future iPhone with a display made out of the material could render it scratch-resistant and nearly unbreakable.

Synthetic sapphire is made using furnaces that cause cylinders of sapphire to grow in about a month. The cylinders are then sliced to less than a millimeter thick, Bloomberg said. Because the process is so complex, it requires a small and well-trained workforce, unlike the factories run by Foxconn to assemble Apple's gadgets by hand.

The sapphire plant is Apple's latest effort to control every part of the process for making its gadgets. Along with now building sapphire for strong screens, the company also designs the processors powering its iPhones and iPads. Controlling more of the process allows the devices to work exactly as Apple wants, and it also allows the company to keep its plans more secret.