The site notes that in March 2012, Twin Creeks announced Hyperion 3, a new production system that it created to manufacture photovoltaic (solar) cells. The process involves manufacturing a block of sapphire then slicing a 0.2mm sheet of it.
"A particle accelerator bombards these wafers with hydrogen ions, and with exacting control of the voltage of the accelerator, the hydrogen ions accumulate precisely 20 micrometers from the surface of each wafer. A robotic arm then transports the wafers to a furnace where the ions expand into hydrogen gas, which cause the 20-micrometer-thick layer to shear off." [ExtremeTech]
Notably, GT Advanced Technologies, the same company Apple signed a major deal with for sapphire production, acquired Twin Creeks in late 2012. In the acquisition announcement, GT discussed the possibility for production of thin sapphire.
"GT expects to pursue the development of thin sapphire laminates for use in applications such as cover and touch screen devices,” the release reads. “The Hyperion ion implanter has the potential to minimize, or in some cases eliminate, the need for wafering saws, which would significantly lower the cost of production."
This becomes even more interesting when looking at a recent Apple patent filing called, "Sapphire Laminates". Apple describes various embodiments of the patent including the lamination of glass and sapphire together.
Embodiments may include the use of a sapphire outer surface with a glass inner surface for the display of a consumer electronics device, where the two sapphire surfaces are laminated together with the glass providing support for the display and the sapphire providing scratch resistance and durability advantages.
The combined sapphire and glass structure could be less than 1 mm thick.
Another embodiment may take the form of a glass structure having a glass sheet and a sapphire sheet adhered to the glass sheet. The glass structure is less than or approximately equal to 1 mm thick.
The combination of hyper-thin sapphire sheets with glass would significantly lower the cost of creating sapphire cover glass for Apple devices, even larger ones like the iPhone.
"By doing this, Apple could stretch out the production and cost factors of sapphire enough to support manufacturing full-size display cover sheets, not just small wearable panels, buttons or protective camera covers," says TechCrunch. "This, in turn, could mean sapphire cover sheets that are harder and tougher than standard glass materials on your iPhone years sooner than most analysts have predicted."