Sapphire’s unique properties make it a perfect material for high-performance applications due to its optical transparency, physical strength, resistance to abrasion and corrosion, temperature durability, chemical inertness, and bio-compatibility. As a result, it is perfectly suited for extreme environments where material durability is just as important as optical clarity.
One extreme use case is in the aerospace and defense industry where there’s a need for rugged windows for targeting pods and missile domes, most notably for the US F-35 fighter jet, that may come in contact with harsh conditions from the harsh, gritty desert with extremely high temperatures to high altitudes with extreme low temperatures.
Market research firm Yole Developpement determined that non-substrate applications for sapphire in the defense, semiconductor and other applications represent 25% of the sapphire industry revenue in a new study. The market represents a solid growth opportunity for sapphire makers.
While there is opportunity, innovation is needed. Sapphire traditionally has been limited to smaller shapes and sizes using traditional growth methods. As sensor technology and applications, in defense and aerospace in particular, have evolved, the size requirements for sapphire windows have grown substantially. One company that is innovating sapphire crystal growth is Rubicon Technology.
In a recent paper, Rubicon’s Dr. Jonathan Levine, Director of Technical Business Development, detailed how Rubicon successfully produced very large sapphire blanks using a highly modified horizontal directional solidification process. This new method, named the Large‐Area Netshape Crystal Extraction (LANCE) system is currently able to produce crystals of several different orientations. The company plans to produce sapphire windows as large as 36 x 18 x 0.8 inches.
For Further Reading
Clearlysapphire.com Blog, Opportunities for Sapphire: New Applications & Markets Explained, http://blog.clearlysapphire.com/?p=426
Clearlysapphire.com Blog, How Large Can You Go? Sapphire Windows Grow Up and Across, http://blog.clearlysapphire.com/?p=409
Rubicon Technology, Synthesis and characterization of large optical-grade sapphire windows produced from a horizontal growth process, http://www.rubicontechnology.com/sites/default/files/Synthesis%20and%20Characterization%20of%20Large%20Optical%20Grade%20Sapphire%20Windows.pdf