Sapphire Carves Out a Corner of the Smart Watch Market

With the much anticipated release of the Apple Watch, the smart watch industry – and with it the sapphire industry – are back in the national spotlight.

Photo Credit: Business Insider

Photo Credit: Business Insider

Smart watches such as the Apple Watch are not only shaking up the wearables industry, but tipping us over the edge into a wearables revolution, predicted to be as transformative as smartphones and tablets.  With each new release, sapphire continues to establish a clear role in the future of wearable technology.

So what has led sapphire to be the go-to screen choice for smart watches?

As the second hardest substance on Earth behind diamond, it is unsurprising so many smart watch manufacturers are going with sapphire for their high-end time pieces. Utilized by traditional luxury watchmakers for decades, a sapphire faceplate is hard, extremely rugged and scratch resistant – excellent qualities to have when a device is situated in a vulnerable position, such as your wrist.

In fact, in an effort to prove just how indestructible a sapphire display is, Apple fan site iPhonefixed recently made a video of a purported Apple Watch sapphire display enduring excessive abuse, including aggressive rubbing against a stone wall and a power drill. In the end, the Apple Watch display is shown 100 percent intact, surviving without a single scuff or scratch.

But Apple is not the first or only manufacturer to feature sapphire on its smart watches. At Mobile World Congress 2015, Huawei shook up the wearable world by announcing the Huawei Watch. Designed with a more classical look in mind than the Apple Watch, the smart watch’s stainless steel build and sapphire crystal face make it look and feel more like a traditional timepiece.

Sapphire Industry Watch – April 24

  • UK’s ‘first’ aquaponic farm gets green light – Fresh Produce Journal: A London warehouse has been converted into a large-scale aquaponic farm that will use aquaculture and hydroponic technologies to grow enough salads and herbs for 200,000 bags of salad and approximately 4,000kg of fish per year.  Featuring specialized horticulture LED lighting, the farm is described as the first of its kind in the UK and is expected to produce its first harvest in September.
  • Rubicon Technology to showcase largest sapphire window ever produced at SPIE DSS – Market Watch: Rubicon Technology showcased the largest sapphire window ever produced at the SPIE DSS 2015 exhibition from April 20-24. Measuring in at 17 inches wide by 25 inches long and 1 inch thick, the sapphire window perfectly combines the durability and optical clarity necessary for use in defense applications.
  • Gov. Baker recognize Earth day with new LED program – 7News Boston: Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker celebrated Earth Day by announcing the state will be working to replace more than 5,000 outdoor lights with LEDs in an effort to reduce energy consumption and cost. The governor hopes this conversion will help Massachusetts become a national leader in the LED light movement.
  • Adaptalux uses octopus-like LED arms to illuminate your photos – Slash Gear: Adaptalux, a miniature portable lighting studio for videographers and macro photographers, uses magnetically-connected “arms” with LED lights on the end to illuminate subjects without overpowering them. The device can use a variety of lights and diffusers to ensure perfect lighting, along with controls to adjust beam angle and direction.

5 Non-LED Uses of Sapphire

Rubicon Technology may be best known as the worldwide market leader in sapphire for LEDs, but the company’s sapphire is being used in applications far beyond the lighting industry.

From semiconductor equipment components to camera lens covers, there are many intriguing uses for optical and non-wafer sapphire. Here’s a peek at five non-LED usages for Rubicon’s synthetic sapphire.

Rubicon1. Semiconductor Equipment  Components

More than 40 different semiconductor equipment components are made of sapphire. Due to its ability to withstand very high temperatures, extreme environment processing and harsh chemicals like fluorine plasma and many acids, sapphire is ideal for equipment such as plasma tubes, heater plates, lift pins and chamber windows.

2. Medical Component

Sapphire products are used in a variety of medical applications, including dental braces, surgical blades, laser delivery windows, arthroscopy lenses and skull pins. When compared with traditional metal alternatives, medical sapphire components provide advantages of optical transmission, transparency for both aesthetic and performance improvements, high durability and precision, and also can be utilized for procedures requiring active imaging as sapphire does not impact imaging processes like metal.

3. Infrared (IR) Windows

Sapphire windows of optical quality are already being used for military sensing applications on aircrafts and missiles. In fact, sapphire IR windows are now beginning to be used on private, commercial and cargo aircraft to assist with landing in inclement weather.

4. Wafer Carriers

Sapphire is so durable that it is actually used to support other brittle wafers that are being processed, such as gallium arsenide and silicon carbide. These brittle wafers are mounted to sapphire so they do not break or get damaged during transit.

5. Durable Lenses and Windows

One of the largest optical applications for sapphire is in the form of lenses and windows. Due to its hardness and wide range of transmission from UV to Visible to IR wavelengths, sapphire lenses and windows are ideal for use in applications where there is a possibility of impact, scratching, high temperatures, chemical interaction or other harsh conditions. These lenses and windows are used in a wide variety of applications, such as camera lenses, military rifle scopes and as windows for sensors and laser transmission.

We are just scratching the surface when it comes to optical and non-wafer uses for sapphire. As research continues and new applications are discovered, you will see sapphire included in different types of products. Who knows, you may soon be seeing sapphire used for the armored windshields of military vehicles or even in hip replacements!

Sapphire Industry Watch – April 17

  • Video: The Apple Watch’s sapphire display survives an insane power drill test – BGR: In an effort to prove just how indestructible the sapphire display of the Apple Watch is, iPhonefixed made a video of a purported Apple Watch sapphire display enduring aggressive rubbing against a stone wall and a power drill, amongst other abusive tests. In the end, the Apple Watch display is shown 100 percent intact, surviving without a single scuff or scratch.
  • Check out the light emerging from these Dublin landmarks – thejournal.ie: A team of professors at Trinity College Dublin have estimated that over 2.2. million units of electricity are wasted per year across Ireland in illuminating areas such as public parks and gardens. According to the Dublin City Council, the biggest source of light pollution comes from low pressure sodium light bulbs. To remedy the situation, there is a proposal to replace all of the low pressure sodium lights with LED lights over the next few years.
  • US LED lighting market to reach $5.2bn in 2015, driven by declining LED prices and government initiatives – Semiconductor Today: Continued innovation over the last decade has led to the overall growth of LEDs in the general lighting market. According to TechSci Research, due to continuously declining LED prices, US government initiatives and increasing consumer inclination towards the adoption of green technologies, the US LED lighting market could grow to $5.2bn in 2015.
  • Oklahoma City Hall park to get makeover – The Oklahoman: The park surrounding Oklahoma City Hall is set to undergo a much needed makeover. The main feature of the park, the fountain, which dates back to the opening of City Hall in 1937, will be rebuilt with new nozzles, mechanical systems and LED lighting.

Sapphire Hips

More than 7 million people in the United States alone are currently living with knee or hip replacements, 2.5 million of which have had total hip replacement (THR) surgeries, according to Mayo Clinic researchers.

While current metal-on-metal and ceramic endoprotheses have had a dramatic effect on mobilizing this fairly large segment of the population, these replacements must be replaced again after 15 to 30 years and have even been known to fail in just a few years.

Sapphire is breaking ground in the medical industry after having been successfully implanted into the hips of five patients.

Of this small experimental group, none have reportedly shown any complications since the implants were put in five years ago. Having long been considered an attractive material for artificial joint replacements, the success of these clinical trials proves sapphire has a promising future for use inside the human body.

One of the most important issues in the modern total hip arthroplasty (THA) is the bearing surface. Amongst other characteristics, extensive research has shown that durability and bio-inertness are necessary traits of materials used in hip replacements. The Ukrainian Academy of Medical Sciences, Kharkov, has been studying sapphire friction pairs, which prove to fit the bill.

Made from highly purified materials with crystals grown at 2,100℃ in a vacuum, sapphire friction pairs are aluminum oxides in the purest form have no porosity or grain boundaries. Under such conditions, additional purification of the material takes place and the content of the main substance (aluminum oxide) achieved is 99.99%.

These extremely pure sapphire friction pairs hold the following physical advantages over metal and ceramic endoprostheses:

  • Hardness
  • Durability
  • Biochemical inertness
  • Biocompatibility
  • Low friction coefficient
  • Extraordinarily high wear capacity
  • Availability at a low cost
  • Optical transparency

These characteristics make sapphire not only suitable for artificial bone replacements, but also other external medical applications, such as implants and braces. As clinical trials of the material continue, it is clear we are just scratching the surface of sapphire medical applications.

Sapphire Industry Watch – April 10

  • Monuments Around The Globe Are Turning Blue For Autism Awareness – BuzzFeed: In an effort to increase autism awareness, 13,000 buildings across the globe shined bright blue on the evening of April 1. An annual tradition since 2008, major world landmarks, such as the Empire State Building and its LED Lighting System, lit up blue in honor of World Autism Awareness Day.
  • Taiwan Expanding Into Indoor LED-lit, Pesticide-free Farms – Lancaster Online: A new generation of Taiwanese farmers is growing vegetables indoors under bright LED lights in climate-controlled “grow rooms”. High-tech indoor farms are now yielding more crops per area than soil and because of the intensity of lights and nutrients provided in the water, plants grown under LED lights grow twice as fast.
  • Hotels Light Up to Influence Human Behavior – Sourceable: Amongst furnishings and art, lighting is emerging as the most important factor that can evoke emotion and create ambiance for hotel guests. A case study by electrical firm Leviton, demonstrated how LED lamps are able to transform lobby areas with colors and aesthetics that couldn’t be achieved with standard incandescent lighting.
  • LA Connects, Controls its LED Street Lights – Energy Manager Today: The Los Angeles Bureau of Street Lighting has implemented a new management system that allows it to remotely control the city’s LED street lights, along with monitor power usage. Made up of about 7,500 centerline miles of LED street lights, LA’s entire system can be managed remotely through any web browser, eliminating on-site commissioning.

The challenges of growing the world’s largest sapphire slab

Can optical quality sapphire be grown in a different way to create a large, thick window to protect equipment on the belly of an aircraft?

This is the question that members of the Rubicon Technology design team were asked when the United States Air Force Research Lab (AFRL) called upon them about three years ago to develop a new growth platform that could produce very large polished sapphire infrared (IR) windows.

In the past, these dimensions were met by piecing together several smaller sapphire windows, with less-than-desired performance.

Despite high interest from the defense and aerospace industries, no method for producing sapphire for optical-grade windows of such great size and thickness existed at the time. Sapphire had been limited to smaller sizes and shapes using traditional growth methods. Rubicon studied the problem and agreed that it could be done. In 2012, the Air Force Research Laboratory granted Rubicon a three-year research contract to develop this product.

With several “firsts” already under its belt, such as having been the first to commercialize 6-inch and 8-inch wafers for the LED industry and the first to produce large-diameter patterned sapphire substrates, Rubicon has now successfully become the first to grow a 36 x 18 x 2-inch sapphire slab.

Drawing upon its strong history of scaling up sapphire growth processes, Rubicon successfully produced large sapphire blanks by highly modifying the Horizontal Directional Solidification (HDS) process and developing LANCE. Unlike the ES2 method, which produces high-quality sapphire crystals in the shape of roughly cylindrical boules, the HDS method produces sapphire plates that are advantageous for shaping into large windows.

Scaling up to larger crystal sizes while maintaining crystal quality was, of course, the real test and involved development of a new type of furnace.

Devising how to maintain crystal quality at such a large size proved to be experimental and time-intensive for the designers. By combining multiple platforms, materials and heater types, Rubicon ultimately demonstrated the ability to pull a horizontal boat through a heater surrounded by thermal insulation to achieve the desired thick slab while maintaining its high quality.

Over the past two years, the design team has continued to tweak and perfect the LANCE process, keeping the ultimate goal in mind of producing a sapphire slab with the cut measurements of 36 x 18 x 2 inches. The project is on track to produce optical quality sapphire at this immense size.

Looking to the future, this monolithic sheet is a hugely innovative advance that will provide a large, seamless optical field for military sensing applications and beyond.

For more information on the LANCE project, visit http://www.rubicontechnology.com/research-development/project-lance-very-large-sapphire-windows.

Case Number 88ABW-2015-1571

Sapphire Industry Watch – April 3

  • International Youth Culture Centre glows with colorful LED lighting – Gizmag: With 700,000 high-efficiency LED nodes, LED linear lighting and LED flood lighting, the International Youth Culture Centre in Nanjing, China is a colorful addition to the city’s skyline. The LED system’s palette of 16 million colors beautifully illuminates the development, while being more energy efficient than traditional LED lights. The system, which was designed by Philips, is reported to save up to 60 percent in electricity used compared to normal LED lights.
  • Seattle Mariners first team to use LED lights, last 97,000 more hours – UPI: Safeco Field, the home of the Seattle Mariners, is the first Major League Baseball stadium to fully illuminate its playing field with LED lights. In addition to reducing glares and shadows on the field, the LED lights turn on instantly and have reduced energy consumption for field lighting by up to 70 percent.
  • Rubicon appoints GTAT’s former VP of crystal growth systems development as CTO – Semiconductor Today: Dr. Christine Richardson has been appointed as Chief Technology Officer of Rubicon Technology. Formerly the Vice President of Crystal Growth Systems Development & Engineering at GT Advanced Technologies, Richardson will take responsibility for the ongoing development of Rubicon’s technology platforms and also lead R&D activities.
  • Solar flower trees to power up alternative lighting solutions – The Times of India: The Kerala State Electricity Board (KSEB) has installed two solar flower trees in front of its headquarters as part of the state’s initiative to promote alternative lighting solutions in public spaces. The geometrically-cut flower-shaped solar panels generate power throughout the day and, if it’s sunny enough, LED lights attached to the petals can remain lit continuously for up to 12 hours.

The LED Takeover

Long before Rubicon Technology was manufacturing sapphire for LEDs, it was the incandescent light bulb that illuminated our world. More than one-hundred years ago – in 1879 to be precise -Thomas Edison patented the first incandescent light bulb, igniting the lighting industry and paving the way for the ‘world after dark’ that we enjoy today.

Because of the steady warm glow they produce, incandescent bulbs were soon found to be fitting for most household applications. Fluorescent tube lights, on the other hand, were later developed to produce brighter neon light and be more efficient, making them suitable for commercial applications, such as offices, hospitals and stores.

An outgrowth of the Germans’ 19th century invention of the Geissler tube, the first real challenger to the incandescent bulb for home use, the compact fluorescent lamp (CFL), hit the market in the mid-1980s. Although they were significantly more efficient than incandescent light bulbs, at a retail price of $25-$35, CFLs were also more expensive, deterring consumers at first from purchasing them.

Since the 1990s, however, improvements in CFL performance, price, efficiency and lifespan have led to a rise in their popularity – not to mention they became one of few lighting alternatives available after the phase out of the incandescent bulb began in 2014.

When it comes to which type of light bulb will reign as king in the 21st century, LEDs have undoubtedly stolen the spotlight from CFLs. In addition to being one of the fastest developing lighting technologies today, LEDs are currently the most efficient lighting source on the market.

The first visible-spectrum LEDs were invented in 1962 by Nick Holonyak in the form of red diodes. These initial LEDs first became available to the public in the form of indicator lights and calculator displays in the 1970s. The invention of the blue diode in the 1990s by American Shuji Nakamura, along with Japan’s Isamu Akasaki and Horoshi Amano, quickly led to the development of white LEDs.

Ever since the invention of the white LEDs, we have seen their use explode in a variety of applications. They are now being used in major national and international landmarks such as the Empire State Building and Sydney Opera House, transforming these buildings into energy-efficient and eco-friendly locations. In addition, LEDs have made notable appearances at major events this year all across the globe, including Super Bowl XLIX in the U.S. and Chinese New Year celebrations in both China and Malaysia.

Tower

Aside from the more conventional lighting applications, LEDs are also being utilized in the beauty and health industry. NASA developed LED facial technology that is said to plump up aging skin, boost collagen and treat acne. In Iran, LEDs are being used in the treatment of cancerous and precancerous skin lesions and could be used in the treatment of skin cancer in the future.

Facial

LEDs have the potential to affect the modern world even more than the original incandescent bulb did in the 20th century. As costs continue to fall and more out-of-the-box applications are discovered, it is clear there is no stopping LEDs from taking over the world.