With high quality commercial sapphire now more widely available than ever before, we’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg when it comes to sapphire’s use.
Eventually, we’re going to see doors open for the adoption of what’s been called a “wonder material” in industries like medical equipment and implants, military sensor technologies and a wide array of consumer electronics. In some of these industries, sapphire has already started to make its debut.
Let’s take a look at the top three industries where new applications of sapphire will initially play out.
In the near future, you may carry sapphire inside of you.
Potential uses for sapphire in the medical field are significant. To give but one example, sapphire could be used for joint replacements since it is biocompatible and won’t wear down over time.
That’s great news for the thousands of patients who have to have additional hip replacements seven and a half years after their first one and endure more, often painful, recoveries and increased medical expenses.
Sapphire’s optical properties and durability also offer advantages for specific medical laser applications in dermatology, ophthalmology and dentistry. It’s already widely used in surgical systems for its laser transmission, high resistance to heat, and non-thrombogenic properties (meaning it doesn’t promote clotting). In addition, sapphire products are used for surgical tools, implants and dental braces.
- Defense and Aerospace
Historically, sapphire has been limited to smaller applications, like LED chips and components for smartphones. Going forward, sapphire manufacturers will find ways to grow sapphire to fit applications with larger size requirements, including uses in defense and aerospace.
For instance, with advancements in military sensor technology, there is an increased demand for large, thick, optical windows that can withstand harsh environments and protect sensors—a perfect application for sapphire.
Through a contract with the Air Force Research Laboratory, Rubicon has developed an entirely new sapphire crystal growth platform capable of growing windows of optical quality sapphire as thick as 14 x 20 x 1.5 inches. This new growth platform will allow Rubicon to grow panels up to two inches thick, which is larger than other large-area growth technologies can generate.
- Consumer Electronics
While phone manufacturers, like Vertu and Kyocera, already have sapphire faceplates, larger manufacturers could propel the material into the mainstream.
If consumers like sapphire smartphone screens, we’re going to quickly see other device manufacturers follow suit. For example, Apple recently announced the Apple Watch will come equipped with a sapphire Retina display. Second only to diamond in hardness, sapphire will likely enable Apple Watch wearers to drop their watch without damaging the device.
With increased demand for sapphire and improved and more affordable production, we are only grazing the surface of sapphire’s potential use and – one thing is for certain – sapphire will begin to play a much larger role in our day-to-day lives.