Apple makes big investment in TrueDepth sensor maker

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TrueDepth Finisar
TrueDepth sensors in production at Finisar.
Photo: Apple

Apple has invested a substantial sum of cash in TrueDepth sensor maker Finisar.

The $390 million fund will allow for increased research and development spending, and high-volume production of vertical-cavity surface-emitting lasers (VCSELs). It will also allow Finisar to open a new production facility in Texas, creating more than 500 jobs.

VCSELs are the brains behind some of the biggest features of iPhone X. That includes Face ID, Animoji, and Portrait mode selfies. They also give AirPods their proximity-sensing capabilities, and they’re all manufactured by Finisar.

Apple’s investment will create 500 jobs in U.S.

“VCSEL technology is a better performing, more compact and cost-efficient solution compared to traditional edge-emitting lasers for many emerging applications,” Apple says. Its rapid adoption of these sensors has led to “the development and production of the most advanced VCSELs used in the history of consumer electronics.”

Apple clearly has plans to continue using them in the future — and it wants to help make them even better. The company has has awarded Finisar a $390 million investment from its Advanced Manufacturing Fund.

The commitment will enable Finisar to transform a long-shuttered 700,000-sqare-foot manufacturing plant in Sherman, Texas, into a new VCSEL manufacturing facility. It will create more than 500 new jobs for engineers, technicians, and maintenance teams.

“When combined with the company’s nearby plant in Allen, Texas, Finisar’s payroll in Northern Texas is expected to be $65 million,” Apple adds. Hiring, equipment planning, and infrastructure upgrades are already underway, with shipping expected to begin in 2018.

Alongside Apple’s commitment to being environmentally-friendly, Finisar intents to procure enough renewable energy to cover all of its Apple manufacturing in the U.S.

Apple will purchase all VCSELs from Finisar

Apple says that 100 percent of the VCSELs it purchases from Finisar will be produced in Texas. In the fourth quarter of 2017 alone, the company will purchase 10 times more VCSEL wafers than were previously manufactured worldwide over a similar time period.

“VCSELs power some of the most sophisticated technology we’ve ever developed and we’re thrilled to partner with Finisar over the next several years to push the boundaries of VCSEL technology and the applications they enable,” said Jeff Williams, Apple’s chief operating officer.

“Technology is only as good as the people behind it, and Finisar is a company with a long history of putting its employees first and supporting the community it’s a part of. We’re extremely proud that our involvement will help transform another American community into a manufacturing powerhouse.”

Apple’s Advanced Manufacturing Fund is committed to investing at least $1 billion in U.S.-based companies to foster innovative production and high-skill jobs. It has already awarded $200 million to Corning Incorporated to support R&D, equipment needs, and more.