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Apple invests $200 million to assist Gorilla Glass development

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Corning Inc. received a strong vote of confidence in Gorilla Glass, its durable, scratch-resistant material now finding uses in more than just smartphone screens.

Apple said it will invest $200 million with Corning to assist in developing future generations of Gorilla Glass and to enhance the company’s manufacturing capability.

“Corning is a great example of a supplier that has continued to innovate and they are one of Apple’s long-standing suppliers,” said Jeff Williams, Apple’s chief operating officer. “This partnership started 10 years ago with the very first iPhone, and today every customer that buys an iPhone or iPad anywhere in the world touches glass that was developed in America.”

During Corning’s annual meeting earlier this month, top executives touted Gorilla Glass as a segment with substantial growth potential. It has become the standard material for screens in mobile devices. At the meeting, company executives featured Gorilla Glass as the main screen in the new generation of Samsung phones, but references to Apple were largely missing.

On Friday, Corning unveiled one of its largest research development partnerships ever, when it publicly unveiled the $200 million investment at its glass manufacturing facility in Harrodsburg, Kentucky, about 30 miles southwest of Lexington.

Apple said the investment is part of a $1 billion commitment “with US-based companies as part of the fund, which is designed to foster innovative production and highly skilled jobs that will help lay the foundation for a new era of technology-driven manufacturing in the United States.”

Trade journals report that Apple turned to Corning after an investment in GT Advanced Technologies, which was supposed to supply glass for iPhones and other mobile devices, turned sour.

Corning’s efforts with Apple date back to the original iPhone, when Apple CEO Steve Jobs sought out the 157-year-old company to produce a durable glass during the product’s development after initial efforts to install a plastic front fell well short in performance.

Since then, Corning says it has made 552 million square feet of its Gorilla Glass product for iPhones and iPads, or roughly enough glass to cover 10,000 football fields.

“Corning’s longstanding relationship with Apple has not only led to significant glass innovations that have enabled new capabilities for consumers, it has also helped create nearly 1,000 American jobs and allowed us to continue growing and expanding in the United States,” said Wendell P. Weeks, Corning’s chairman, chief executive officer and president.

Much of the Gorilla Glass research is done at the company’s Sullivan Park facility in Erwin, while the process is refined for mass production in Harrodsburg.

In addition to front-of-phone applications, Gorilla Glass is also being increasingly employed on the rear of smartphones because manufacturers have discovered it enhances call transmission capability, Corning executives said at the annual meeting.

The wide embrace of Gorilla Glass in several applications is evident in the specialty materials segment results. In the first quarter of 2017, sales were up 32 percent to $300 million from the same period a year ago, and net income rose by 50 percent to $48 million, with much of the increase attributed to strong sales of Gorilla Glass.

“We’re extremely proud of our collaboration over the years and we are investing further with Corning who has such a rich legacy of innovative manufacturing practices,” Williams of Apple said.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Follow Jeff Platsky on Twitter @JeffPlatsky

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