Apple Salvaging Failed Sapphire Plant for Use as a Data Center

Apple had financed a planned sapphire glass plant in Arizona, but agreed late last year to end a deal with GT Advanced Technologies to run it after GT Advanced filed for bankruptcy.

Apple, sapphire, display, iPhone 6

Apple is now going to invest $2 billion into the failed sapphire glass manufacturing plant it was building for former partner GT Advanced Technologies in Arizona so it can salvage the facility as a new data center.

The data center conversion for the once-touted sapphire glass plant was revealed in a Feb. 2 report by Bloomberg, months after Apple and GT Advanced ended their planned partnership. GT Advanced was supposed to manufacture special sapphire glass for Apple iPhones, but ran into complex production problems that led to the demise of the partnership and the eventual bankruptcy of GT Advanced last October.

"We're proud to continue investing in the U.S. with a new data center in Arizona, which will serve as a command center for our global networks," Kristin Huguet, a spokeswoman for Apple, told Bloomberg in an emailed statement on Feb. 2. "This multibillion-dollar project is one of the largest investments we've ever made."

The building contains more than 1.3 million square feet of space and was aimed at bringing the production of sapphire glass to the United States for Apple. Apple's iPhones, iPads and Mac computers are all built in Asia.

The building, when transformed into a data center, will employ 150 full-time Apple employees and will create 300 to 500 construction and trade jobs, Doug Ducey, Arizona's governor, told Bloomberg. The facility will be powered by 100 percent renewable energy, the report continued.

The data center plans are a far cry from the original plans for the facility, which began with high hopes to produce sapphire glass for use on iPhone displays. Back in February 2014, Apple was reportedly ready to fire up a sapphire factory it had financed with then-partner GT Advanced in Mesa, Ariz., so that production could begin for super-strong sapphire screens that were rumored to be included in the iPhone 6 smartphone lines, according to an earlier eWEEK report.

Apple CEO Tim Cook had previously confirmed in January 2014 that Apple was opening such a factory that would focus on sapphire glass, though he wouldn't say what the glass was for at the time. GT Advanced, in a January 2014 corporate overview, told investors, "In Nov. 2013, GT signed a multi-year sapphire materials supply agreement with a leading OEM, which is expected to provide GT with a platform for recurring sapphire materials revenues."

All of that came apart last October when Apple and GT Advanced reached a settlement to end their apparently strained relationship, less than three weeks after GT Advanced filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection earlier in October.

GT Advanced had announced its Chapter 11 reorganization plans on Oct. 6. The company's sapphire displays were rumored for months to have been included in the new iPhone 6 models that Apple launched in September, but the super-strong display material was instead not featured in the new phones when they went on sale last September.

GT Advanced, which is based in Merrimack, N.H., filed for Chapter 11 in the United States Bankruptcy Court for the District of New Hampshire so that it could continue to operate and work toward a reorganization plan to rebuild its business, according to a statement by the company.