November saw an announcement from Apple that it would be opening a new manufacturing plant in Mesa, Arizona. Little information has leaked out since, except that it would be used to manufacture sapphire crystal for use in Apple devices.
Now, we have tracked down documents (with the help of analyst Matt Margolis) showing correspondence between U.S. Foreign Trade Zone officials and Apple’s Deputy Director of Global Trade Compliance. The documents were made public today by the Foreign Trade Zones Board. The papers indicate the materials Apple will utilize to manufacture sapphire, share details about Apple’s “aggressive” plan to take the facility live, and provide a description of how the sapphire will be used in future Apple products…
The new documents reveal that Apple plans to take the plant live in February. In the above document, Apple’s James J. Patton describes the goal of meeting a February go-live timeline as “aggressive.” A February launch indicates that Apple will begin producing sapphire for use in Apple products as soon as this year.
While speculation has run rampant about what Apple will be using the sapphire glass for, ranging from iPhone screens to iWatch screens to other products, Apple’s explanation indicates it is for a new component.
Project Cascade will conduct high-tech manufacturing of intermediate goods/components for consumer electronics. All finished components will be exported. This high-tech manufacturing process will create a critical new sub-component of Apple Products to be used in the manufacture of the consumer electronics that will be imported and then sold globally. By pulling this process into the U.S., Apple will be using cutting edge, new technology to enhance and improve the consumer products, making them best in class per product type.
Rumors have flown about Apple and Foxconn conducting test runs of sapphire iPhone displays, so it seems possible the Mesa, Arizona plant will be producing the sapphire screens.
Apple currently uses Corning Gorilla Glass for its iPhones, which the manufacturer claims is stronger than sapphire glass, at a lower cost. However, it is possible that advances in manufacturing of sapphire glass have allowed Apple to take another look at the process and prepare it for use with its products.