Tech giant Apple announced Tuesday morning it's awarding $250 million to fuel more innovation for the scratch-resistant glass made in Kentucky for its hot-selling iPhones.
The money will go to expand advanced manufacturing and technology pioneered by Corning Inc., which has a research and development center and manufacturing hub in Harrodsburg, Kentucky, with nearly 400 high-paying jobs.
No new positions are expected, but executives said the investment will build on momentum from a similar award of $200 million from Apple in early 2017. It's also seen as key to solidifying Kentucky's involvement with the company's products.
“Apple and Corning’s rich history dates back more than a decade, and our partnership revolutionized glass and transformed the technology industry with the first iPhone,” Jeff Williams, Apple’s chief operating officer, said in a statement.
“This award underscores Apple and Corning's shared belief in the vital role that ingenuity plays in creating industry-leading products, and the pride that both companies take in applying American innovation and advanced manufacturing to solve some of the world's toughest technology challenges,” Williams said.
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The cash will go to capital investments, new technology and process development, which is huge because the glass innovation needs to keep pace as Apple's devices evolve, John Bayne, senior vice president of Corning's Gorilla Glass, said in an interview. "This is the toughest, most durable glass available."
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who appeared at an announcement of Apple's first investment, wrote that the latest is "great news for workers in Harrodsburg" and "builds on their strong partnership & proud testament to hardworking men & women at the facility."
Apple turned to Corning in 2007 when the tech firm found the plastic covers on its revolutionary new iPhones were cheap and scratched easily. Could the 167-year-old conglomerate create a sleeker, more durable product with glass?
Corning's CEO Wendell Weeks told the late Apple founder Steve Jobs then of a tempered glass the company manufactured in the 1960s but shelved because it hadn't found a market for it.
At the time, Corning was making liquid crystal display glass for TVs and monitors, but demand was drying up. It quickly switched to making lengths of durable, scratch-resistant glass, known as Gorilla Glass, for iPhones and iPads.
Scientists and engineers at Harrodsburg reworked the glass treatment, using what's called a "fusion draw" process to create a 1/16th-inch slice of glass that is clean, smooth and flat and doesn't require grinding or polishing.
The glass is chemically tempered with a hot bath of molten salt, which removes smaller sodium ions and replaces them with larger potassium ions. Corning never has released detailed pictures from its manufacturing floor, carefully guarding technology it's developed to create the glass.
Bayne, who leads the company's Gorilla Glass effort, declined to discuss specifics of what's in store, except to say that more durable glass enables Apple to move ahead with more "compelling" designs.
The company confirmed that glass for every generation of iPhone, including the newly announced iPhone 11 and iPhone 11 Pro, has been made in Harrodsburg. The newest iPhone models feature a new durable glass on the face of the smartphone, plus a back machined from a single piece of glass to allow for wireless charging.
The investment "is really about advancing our process capability," plant manager Amy Porter said.
This article originally appeared on Louisville Courier Journal: Apple awards $250 million to fuel iPhone glass in Kentucky