Apple wants to improve bonding of plastic and metal in building new iPhones

Posted:
in Future Apple Hardware edited January 2014


Rather than use unreliable adhesives, Apple is exploring new ways to permanently bond plastic and metal parts to build better portable devices like the iPhone.



The concept was revealed this week in a new patent application discovered by AppleInsider entitled "Ultrasonic Bonding of Discrete Plastic Parts to Metal." It describes melting a portion of a plastic component onto a rough metallic surface, allowing the two to permanently fuse.



Ultrasonic welding is not a new concept, and can be a more reliable method than using adhesives, which do not bond well with some materials. But the ultrasonic bonding process becomes difficult when using materials with two vastly different melting points, such as metals and plastics.



Thermoplastic materials typically turn to liquid at relatively low temperatures, while other materials like metal require much higher temperatures for fuse welding. This issue has traditionally limited the kinds of materials that can be used in ultrasonic bonding, Apple's filing notes.



"Any desire to substitute metal parts in for plastic parts in a design where welding is the mode of attachment has been traditionally impossible," the application reads. "This serves to limit the abilities of designers with respect to the materials that can be used in a particular design, such as for the housing and internal features or parts of an electronic device having complex internal features."











In most cases, if a company changes the design of a product and swaps a metal component for plastic, it is forced to also change from an ultrasonic weld to an adhesive attachment. This can be undesirable for solid, highly compact portable devices like the iPhone.



Apple's proposed solution is to build metal components with surface irregularities that are "adapted to accept the flow of melted plastic." In this way, a plastic component could be ultrasonically bonded to a metal item.



"Also, the plastic hardening step occurs while the melted plastic is inside at least one of the surface irregularities, thereby attaching the plastic part to the metallic part," the filing states.



Specifically cited in the application as devices that could benefit from this manufacturing process are both the iPhone and iPod lineup. The parts could also be both external and internal housing components, with metal pieces on the exterior of the device and lightweight plastic fused but hidden on the inside.











In addition to offering designers more flexibility and variety in crafting new devices, the ability to fuse plastic with metal can also aid in the manufacturing process. Apple's filing notes that it would be advantageous to be able to bond to metal parts at late stages of assembly.



The application, made public this week by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, was first filed by Apple in September of 2011. It is credited to Christopher David Prest and Douglas Weber.



[ View article on AppleInsider ]

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Comments

  • jmgregory1jmgregory1 Posts: 410member
    In order to ensure a tight bond between the metal and plastic, there would need to be areas of the metal piece that are sufficiently deep and not perfectly perpendicular to the connection between the metal and plastic. Just making the metal surface rough won't be enough for a tight bond.
  • tjwaltjwal Posts: 404member
    I think this patent exposes one of the problems with the patent system. Make the application narrow enough and there won't be any prior art. This concept is obvious and widely used in a less narrow applications.
  • jragostajragosta Posts: 10,473member
    Having reviewed the application and having some experience with ultrasonic bonding, I don't see any way this should be patentable. It's basically well-known ultrasonic bonding technology.
  • haarhaar Posts: 528member
    i have a sabertooth 990fx MB (yes it isn't apple, or related to apple) , and it has "ceramix heatsink tech" another word for irregular surface for more heat dissipation... thus if apple added this kind of coating to the inside or the surface of the object... it would work...



    can you say "apple care required"... or i wonder does this make it easier to fix a broken part, or harder?
  • haarhaar Posts: 528member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by jragosta View Post


    Having reviewed the application and having some experience with ultrasonic bonding, I don't see any way this should be patentable. It's basically well-known ultrasonic bonding technology.



    prior art!... so did you ever think that if you had a rough surface it would be easier to weld this part... or did you just do the job... and move on?
  • ghostface147ghostface147 Posts: 1,629member
    It'll just make it harder to replace some parts.
  • jragostajragosta Posts: 10,473member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by haar View Post


    prior art!... so did you ever think that if you had a rough surface it would be easier to weld this part... or did you just do the job... and move on?



    It is well known in ultrasonic bonding that a rougher surface makes the bond stronger.
  • wardcwardc Posts: 150member
    My iPhone rattles when I set it down on a hard surface, it has done this from the day I purchased the phone. I believe it to be something with the camera lens not being secure in the device, this has really annoyed me since I bought the iPhone, an iPhone 4. It sort of sounds like some part is loose in there. Sort of makes me feel this is a cheaply built, mass-produced device (which is is), not much quality control. Oh well. Still works like it should.
  • jragostajragosta Posts: 10,473member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by WardC View Post


    My iPhone rattles when I set it down on a hard surface, it has done this from the day I purchased the phone. I believe it to be something with the camera lens not being secure in the device, this has really annoyed me since I bought the iPhone, an iPhone 4. It sort of sounds like some part is loose in there. Sort of makes me feel this is a cheaply built, mass-produced device (which is is), not much quality control. Oh well. Still works like it should.



    Why didn't you take it back? They will replace it for you if it's still under warranty.



    As for quality control, what's your evidence that there's not much quality control? A single phone that rattles? That's silly. The iPhone is a very high quality device with customer satisfaction that's off the charts.
  • alonso perezalonso perez Posts: 385member
    A great feature of many Apple products is that the aluminum housing is easy to recycle; only weak adhesives are used, for example to attach the battery to the iPad 2 back, and can be easily ripped out.



    Permanent, deep bonding of plastic and metal results in a metal part that cannot be recycled. Modern industrial design calls for ease of material separation, and this is the opposite. The plastic would be so embedded that it could be removed only by burning it off, which would emit toxic gasses and particulates.



    If responsibly handled, this adds to recycling cost, making it less viable, and goes against EPEAT Design for End of Life rules 4.3.1.7 and 4.3.2.1.
  • marokeromarokero Posts: 99member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by WardC View Post


    My iPhone rattles when I set it down on a hard surface, it has done this from the day I purchased the phone. I believe it to be something with the camera lens not being secure in the device, this has really annoyed me since I bought the iPhone, an iPhone 4. It sort of sounds like some part is loose in there. Sort of makes me feel this is a cheaply built, mass-produced device (which is is), not much quality control. Oh well. Still works like it should.



    I hear this very faint "rattling", but if you hold the volume and power buttons while shaking your device it stops. It's been a non issue for me.
  • prof. peabodyprof. peabody Posts: 2,860member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by jmgregory1 View Post


    In order to ensure a tight bond between the metal and plastic, there would need to be areas of the metal piece that are sufficiently deep and not perfectly perpendicular to the connection between the metal and plastic. Just making the metal surface rough won't be enough for a tight bond.



    Quote:
    Originally Posted by tjwal View Post


    I think this patent exposes one of the problems with the patent system. Make the application narrow enough and there won't be any prior art. This concept is obvious and widely used in a less narrow applications.



    Quote:
    Originally Posted by jragosta View Post


    Having reviewed the application and having some experience with ultrasonic bonding, I don't see any way this should be patentable. It's basically well-known ultrasonic bonding technology.



    Quote:
    Originally Posted by jragosta View Post


    It is well known in ultrasonic bonding that a rougher surface makes the bond stronger.



    I don't think you people read the article.



    Ultrasonic bonding in this context is performed by roughening the metal surface before melting the plastic onto it. This invention is basically a new way of roughening the metal (so that it has undercuts etc.) and is therefore eminently patentable. It's a process revision of the current technique creating a new type of textured surface and probably using new techniques to achieve it.
  • wardcwardc Posts: 150member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by marokero View Post


    I hear this very faint "rattling", but if you hold the volume and power buttons while shaking your device it stops. It's been a non issue for me.



    Yes, it is a very faint rattle, like a tink-tink-tink sound I hear when I set the iPhone 4 down on a hard surface like a table, it sounds like a small part is sitting loose in the device, it could likely just be the buttons (metal hitting metal) inside the bezel, I will check it out.



    Like you said, it is a non-issue because my device works 100% fine and the camera works perfectly too, I haven't had any functionality problems....it just doesn't sound like the thing is all 'solid' with this small jostling sound.



    Edit: OK I just checked it out, and holding down the volume buttons and the power button doesn't fix the issue. It makes this rattle sound when I tap the backplane of the device near the camera, a clear rattle sound like a loose part in the device. Again, it's a nearly 2 year old iPhone 4, but it's been making the sound since I got the device.
  • apersonaapersona Posts: 27member
    The need to connect parts together is a huge constraint on the final form, especially for designers at Apple who obsess about creating increasingly compact devices with no apparent fasteners.



    This made me think once again about now marginalized K. E. Drexler who wrote Engines of Creation: The Coming Era of Nanotechnology in 1986. That book captured my imagination with predictions of molecular assemblies and vats of primordial soup out of which any material object could be rendered; producing for example a jet engine with no mechanical connectors, just molecular level transitions from, say, flexible to diamond-hard.



    Anyway, Apple's proposal makes me wonder if the air trapped in the cavities would resist the intrusion of semi liquid plastic ...
  • jragostajragosta Posts: 10,473member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Prof. Peabody View Post


    I don't think you people read the article.



    Ultrasonic bonding in this context is performed by roughening the metal surface before melting the plastic onto it. This invention is basically a new way of roughening the metal (so that it has undercuts etc.) and is therefore eminently patentable. It's a process revision of the current technique creating a new type of textured surface and probably using new techniques to achieve it.



    Sorry, but you're the one who didn't read it.



    Read claim #2. They're claiming a patent - even if the roughness is already in the metal part without any further treatment. Then, beyond that, they simply list several ways to create roughness in the metal part - of of them very well known.



    There's absolutely nothing in the application that isn't already well known to anyone who practices ultrasonic welding.
  • jragostajragosta Posts: 10,473member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by apersona View Post


    The need to connect parts together is a huge constraint on the final form, especially for designers at Apple who obsess about creating increasingly compact devices with no apparent fasteners.



    This made me think once again about now marginalized K. E. Drexler who wrote Engines of Creation: The Coming Era of Nanotechnology in 1986. That book captured my imagination with predictions of molecular assemblies and vats of primordial soup out of which any material object could be rendered; producing for example a jet engine with no mechanical connectors, just molecular level transitions from, say, flexible to diamond-hard.



    Anyway, Apple's proposal makes me wonder if the air trapped in the cavities would resist the intrusion of semi liquid plastic ...



    There are simple ways around that. First, if you use even a modest amount of pressure, the air in the cavities is compressed enough that it doesn't take up much space - so the problem is minimized. If you need to remove the air, it's not that hard to do the ultrasonic welding under vacuum.
  • welshdogwelshdog Posts: 1,364member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by apersona View Post


    The need to connect parts together is a huge constraint on the final form, especially for designers at Apple who obsess about creating increasingly compact devices with no apparent fasteners.



    This made me think once again about now marginalized K. E. Drexler who wrote Engines of Creation: The Coming Era of Nanotechnology in 1986. That book captured my imagination with predictions of molecular assemblies and vats of primordial soup out of which any material object could be rendered; producing for example a jet engine with no mechanical connectors, just molecular level transitions from, say, flexible to diamond-hard.



    Anyway, Apple's proposal makes me wonder if the air trapped in the cavities would resist the intrusion of semi liquid plastic ...



    I would assume that they have developed some method of creating a specific texture that might reduce the amount of air trapped. The patent diagram shows a random texture which may not be an accurate depiction of what they have created. My brother worked at HP years ago and once showed me a traction wheel from a plotter. It was a metal ring that had what appeared to be a matte surface. In reality it was a carefully etched surface made of up microscopic spikes that gripped the paper in the plotter without damaging it but allowing precise movement control. I wish I could have seen an EM photo of that surface.
  • iccguyiccguy Posts: 20member
    [QUOTE=AppleInsider;2072790]Rather than use unreliable adhesives, Apple is exploring new ways to permanently bond plastic and metal parts to build better portable devices like the iPhone.





    Is this the beginning of Apple leveraging the patent rights they purchased a while back from Liquidmetal Technologies?
  • deegee48deegee48 Posts: 66member
    Seems to me I've seen this method used somewhere before....Let the patent battles begin!
  • jragostajragosta Posts: 10,473member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by WelshDog View Post


    I would assume that they have developed some method of creating a specific texture that might reduce the amount of air trapped. The patent diagram shows a random texture which may not be an accurate depiction of what they have created. My brother worked at HP years ago and once showed me a traction wheel from a plotter. It was a metal ring that had what appeared to be a matte surface. In reality it was a carefully etched surface made of up microscopic spikes that gripped the paper in the plotter without damaging it but allowing precise movement control. I wish I could have seen an EM photo of that surface.



    Don't make assumptions like that. If Apple had invented a method of creating a specific texture to reduce air entrapment, that MIGHT be patentable, but it would have to be listed in the claims. Since they didn't list anything like that, it's not covered (and probably doesn't exist).



    The fact that Apple says that even untreated surfaces can work as well as listing virtually every surface roughening technology in common use says that it's a generic application.
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