Apple announced on Friday that it's partnering with Corning to give the manufacturer a $200 million grant for its Harrodsburg, KY facility to make next-generation glass as part of Apple's new Advanced Manufacturing Fund.
The investment will go toward R&D, capital equipment needs, and glass processing at the 65-year-old Corning plant. Apple's Advanced Manufacturing Fund targets US-based companies to assist with the development of innovative products and skilled jobs. Last year, Apple spent more than $50 billion with more than 9,000 US suppliers and manufacturers. Overall, Apple said that it supports 2 million US jobs.
At a Friday press conference at the Harrodsburg plant, Jeff Williams, Apple's COO, said, "We're committing $200 million for capital and R&D to support continued work here on advanced glass technologies. Corning has been such an integrate part of our past it's only appropriate that the future is a future we should share together."
Williams added, "Last week Apple announced an Advanced Manufacturing Fund and we committed to spend at least $1 billion investing in new technologies and advanced manufacturing in the United States to not only help us innovate, but to help us bring higher skilled, higher paying jobs to the United States. And so it's only fitting that the first commitment from that fund be for Corning and specifically for Harrodsburg where so much of our history is."
The history between Apple and Corning began at the 360,000-square-foot Harrodsburg plant when Corning began developing the glass for the first iPhone. Corning's Gorilla Glass appeared on the first iPhone in 2007. As demand increased, the Harrodsburg plant couldn't produce all of the glass needed, so now other Corning plants manufacture some of the necessary materials.
The new funding will allow for the Harrodsburg facility to sustain it's current level of production and employees and opens the possibility for additional high-skilled jobs in the future.
"It warms my heart that in the middle of beautiful horse country, the most advanced technology in glass in the world is happening right here," Williams said.
Wendell Weeks, chairman of Corning, said at the press conference, "Today we're excited to begin a new chapter in our partnership. A chapter that will not only enable the next generation of mobile consumer electronics but also sustain and create high value manufacturing jobs."
Weeks said, "One of the reasons Apple is such a successful innovator is because they recognize that product innovation depends on process innovation and they understand that market leadership can be won or lost on the manufacturing floor."
At the press conference, Williams recalled the early days with the iPhone and how Corning came to be involved:
"When Steve [Jobs] held up the iPhone to introduce it to the world, we'd only made a couple, and he was holding up one that we'd designed with hard-coated plastic on the front. The intro went wonderful and then he called the next day and said, 'everything is great except one problem.' He said, 'I've been carrying this thing around and it scratched in my pocket. I don't know if it was my keys or what it was, but it scratched.' He said, 'because it has a big beautiful screen on the whole thing, that's what the iPhone is all about, we need glass.'"
Williams said, he told Jobs, "We've been looking at that, and I think within three to four years technology may evolve and we can do that." Jobs told Williams, "No, no, you don't understand, when it ships in June it needs to be glass."
Williams said he explained to Jobs that all of the glass they'd tested would break 100% of the time. Jobs wouldn't be deterred. "He said, 'I don't know how we're going to do it, but when it ships in June, it's going to be glass.'"
It was about two days later when Williams said he received a call from Weeks, who said, "Hey, your boss called and said my glass sucks. And Wendell said, 'I think I've got an idea, we have this technology that's been sitting on the R&D shelf. It doesn't have a market, it doesn't' have a home, but maybe we can make a go at that.'"
Williams said, "The teams scrambled and there were many months of sheer terror whether this was going to work, and it was a bit of a Hail Mary, but when we launched in June customers had an iPhone that had the beautiful feel of glass, Corning glass, and was scratch resistant. It helped set the tone for iPhone and all of that work happened right here in Harrodsburg."
SEE: Photo gallery of the Corning plant (TechRepublic)
Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell, who also attended the press conference, said, "I just wanted to come by, having had nothing to do with this announcement myself, and just tell you how proud I am of what you do here. We are going to try through comprehensive tax reform to make both of these corporations in a better position to compete with other companies in other countries around the world that have continued to lower their tax rates in a desire to get our businesses to go off shore. There are ways in which we can help both Apple and Corning be even more competitive than you guys have made already with this amazing glass."
Although many of Corning's customers now require nondisclosure agreements before they use Gorilla Glass on their mobile devices, the highly durable glass is on 4.5 billion devices worldwide from 40 different brands, including Apple, Samsung, Huawei, Motorola, and HTC.
This article has been updated with information from Friday's press conference.
The 3 big takeaways for TechRepublic readers
- Apple is investing $200 million in the Corning manufacturing plant in Harrodsburg, KY.
- The investment is the first as part of Apple's $1 billion Advanced Manufacturing Fund.
- The Kentucky plant is the birthplace of Gorilla Glass and produced the glass screens for the first iPhone in 2007.
- Gorilla Glass 5 will protect phones and tablets from 80% of drops (TechRepublic)
- How tough is the new Gorilla Glass 5? (CNET)
- Gorilla Glass 5 will survive drops from selfie-taking height (ZDNet)
- Save money and repair, rather than replace, that broken smartphone (TechRepublic)
- Mobile device computing policy template (Tech Pro Research)
Teena Maddox is a Senior Writer at TechRepublic, covering hardware devices, IoT, smart cities and wearables. She ties together the style and substance of tech. Teena has spent 20-plus years writing business and features for publications including People, W and Women's Wear Daily.