Apple's Manufacturing Move to Liquidmetal

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Apple invited journalists to its annual back-to-school event this September 1, where they were greeted by a large graphic of an acoustic guitar incorporating the Apple logo. This fed speculation that iTunes would be center stage. What shares a big chunk of this stage is Apple’s recent deal with Liquidmetal Technologies, one of the leaders hoping to commercialize amorphous metal alloys that can be processed as easily as plastics. But the term Liquidmetal needs clarity:

“Despite the name they are not liquid, but solid at room temperature, and the maker claims they are hard wearing and withstand thermal cycling. Liquidmetal alloys combine a number of desirable material features, including high tensile strength, excellent corrosion resistance, very high coefficient of restitution and excellent anti-wearing characteristics, while also being able to be heat-formed in processes similar to thermoplastics.

Apple’s engineers will be exploring work with a storied process, matched by an astonishing manufacturing device (above image), “a prototype injection molding machine designed to accommodate Liquidmetal, the new material recently licensed by Apple. The advantage is making parts in fewer steps”far fewer:

“While that may not seem terribly sexy to the layperson, a designer or engineer could tell you that that part would typically require a host of processes to produce it”cutting, drilling, threading, milling, not to mention the finishing processes like deburring”whereas the new process can pump it out of a mold in one go, just like with plastic injection molding. The reduced number of processes and lack of machining needed translates to an enormous time and cost savings; it’s like the difference between doing a batch of laundry by hand, then hang-drying and ironing each piece, versus throwing the whole load in a combo washer-dryer and hitting the button.

In 2008, the key word reported by us was “Brick, in reference to Apple’s new streamlined MacBook Pro line”the result of a manufacturing process which produces a new laptop from a solid brick of aluminum. This time, Apple is injecting more lean manufacturing in Liquidmetal.

Nate Burgos

Source of image of Liquidmetal casting machine, manufactured by Buhler Industries, is unknown.

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