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Apple exploring nitride coatings for scratch-proof devices

post #1 of 39
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Apple has shown interest in creating stainless steel electronic devices that are more durable and scratch resistant, thanks to a thin external coating of nitride.

This week, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office published the details of Apple's invention in a new application entitled "Nitriding Stainless Steel for Consumer Electronic Products." It describes a cost-effective system that would place a layer of nitride atop a stainless steel exterior.

"In addition to providing a durable, hard surface that is both scratch and impact resistant, the nitride layer allows for the natural surface color and texture of the underlying stainless steel to remain visible to the user," the application reads. "It is this natural surface color and texture of the stainless steel that adds to the aesthetically pleasing appearance of the consumer electronic product, thereby enhancing the user's overall experience."

The ability of a nitride coating to allow the stainless steel color to show through is different from titanium nitride, a ceramic material also used as a coating on metal. Titanium nitride carries a metallic gold color that covers the metal beneath it.

Apple's proposed patent would maintain the look and feel of stainless steel on its electronic devices, by both allowing the color of the metal to show through the nitride coating, and also relying on the nitride to protect the device from scratches and blemishes.

The application notes that austenitic stainless steel, while scratch-prone, is a desirable material for consumer electronics because it is non-magnetic and less likely to inhibit wireless technology like a cell phone signal, Wi-Fi, or Bluetooth. Apple wishes to maintain the look and feel of stainless steel, but to also provide more protection for the external material.



Apple's patent application describes a variety of methods to place the nitride on the surface, where the material would be at least 15 microns thick and carry a Vickers Hardness value of at least 1,000.

The application, made public this week, is credited to Douglas Weber. It was originally filed by Apple on April 6, 2010.



Apple has repeatedly shown interest in making its devices more durable and protected from daily wear-and-tear. This August, the company entered into an exclusive agreement with Liquidmetal Technologies, creator of an amorphous metal alloy with unique atomic structures, allowing for products that are stronger, lighter, and resistant to wear and corrosion.
post #2 of 39
When did Apple start having a chemical sciences division?
post #3 of 39
Wow! Pretty cool tech for the shiny iDevices
post #4 of 39
Quote:
Originally Posted by AppleInsider View Post

Apple has shown interest in creating stainless steel electronic devices that are more durable and scratch resistant, thanks to a thin external coating of nitride.

This week, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office published the details of Apple's invention in a new application entitled "Nitriding Stainless Steel for Consumer Electronic Products." It describes a cost-effective system that would place a layer of nitride atop a stainless steel exterior.

"In addition to providing a durable, hard surface that is both scratch and impact resistant, the nitride layer allows for the natural surface color and texture of the underlying stainless steel to remain visible to the user," the application reads. "It is this natural surface color and texture of the stainless steel that adds to the aesthetically pleasing appearance of the consumer electronic product, thereby enhancing the user's overall experience."

The ability of a nitride coating to allow the stainless steel color to show through is different from titanium nitride, a ceramic material also used as a coating on metal. Titanium nitride carries a metallic gold color that covers the metal beneath it.

Apple's proposed patent would maintain the look and feel of stainless steel on its electronic devices, by both allowing the color of the metal to show through the nitride coating, and also relying on the nitride to protect the device from scratches and blemishes.

The application notes that austenitic stainless steel, while scratch-prone, is a desirable material for consumer electronics because it is non-magnetic and less likely to inhibit wireless technology like a cell phone signal, Wi-Fi, or Bluetooth. Apple wishes to maintain the look and feel of stainless steel, but to also provide more protection for the external material.



Apple's patent application describes a variety of methods to place the nitride on the surface, where the material would be at least 15 microns thick and carry a Vickers Hardness value of at least 1,000.

The application, made public this week, is credited to Douglas Weber. It was originally filed by Apple on April 6, 2010.



Apple has repeatedly shown interest in making its devices more durable and protected from daily wear-and-tear. This August, the company entered into an exclusive agreement with Liquidmetal Technologies, creator of an amorphous metal alloy with unique atomic structures, allowing for products that are stronger, lighter, and resistant to wear and corrosion.

Will this be applied to the MBP line eventually?
post #5 of 39
I know this isn't exactly the same, but the DeLorean comes to mind here. Sales of the car were not meeting expectations and one reason was that consumers had only one color choice - stainless. Researchers at DuPont (I think) came up with a paint for the car that apparently looked fantastic. It was transparent so you could see the stainless underneath. One problem. After about a year it would start peeling off the stainless substrate. They could not use it and not long after the car failed in the market place.

This nitride coating is not the same as paint of course, but Apple should be very sure that it will behave as expected in the real world. I would be bad to have customers returning their devices after 6 months because the coating was flaking off.
post #6 of 39
Quote:
Originally Posted by WelshDog View Post

This nitride coating is not the same as paint of course, but Apple should be very sure that it will behave as expected in the real world. I would be bad to have customers returning their devices after 6 months because the coating was flaking off.

A variety of the Nanos have come in anodized colors, so Apple already has a good track history of testing and producing coatings. Nitriding the surface should (in theory) be even less of a risk, since it's colorless.

Quote:
Originally Posted by iCarbon View Post

When did Apple start having a chemical sciences division?

Does anyone have a 'dope-slap' smilie? Apple does more than just aesthetic design.
post #7 of 39
Surely they're working on glare resistant glass screens as well, perhaps even transparent metal? Come on Jobs, invest a billion in transparent aluminum research, don't let a little money get in the way of making the world like star Trek.
post #8 of 39
The general coating process is called salt bath nitriding and in itself is not particularly new. I haven't seen the content of Apple's patent yet, but it's likely to embody one or more elements of four unique aspects. 1.) The composition of the substrate. 2.) The composition of the salt bath. 3.) The composition of the nitride mixed into the salt bath. 4.) Process methods, equipment, etc.

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post #9 of 39
Quote:
Originally Posted by WelshDog View Post

... This nitride coating is not the same as paint of course, but Apple should be very sure that it will behave as expected in the real world. I would be bad to have customers returning their devices after 6 months because the coating was flaking off.

Sounds to me like a coating for the antenna. The metal they currently use for the steel band is quite soft and could certainly use it.

This is the same kind of coating they sometimes put on high speed drill bits so I'm sure it won't flake off later and although "1,000 on the Vickers Hardness scale" is kind of a meaningless thing to say, it seems like the implication is that it wold be something like five to ten times harder than steel.
post #10 of 39
Quote:
Originally Posted by frugality View Post

Does anyone have a 'dope-slap' smilie?

Perhaps this one comes close?

Or better yet (sorry, couldn't resist):
post #11 of 39
The solution for the iPhone 4 antenna-shortcut problem?
post #12 of 39
This would be ideally suitable for the iPod Touch since it has a stainless steel body. Might loose the shine though---IMHO would be better.
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post #13 of 39
Quote:
Originally Posted by Kibitzer View Post

The general coating process is called salt bath nitriding and in itself is not particularly new. I haven't seen the content of Apple's patent yet, but it's likely to embody one or more elements of four unique aspects. 1.) The composition of the substrate. 2.) The composition of the salt bath. 3.) The composition of the nitride mixed into the salt bath. 4.) Process methods, equipment, etc.

Yup... nitriding stainless steel is nothing new in itself (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nitriding), and Titanium can also be nitrided - in any case, it is NOT a coating (not in its usual sense - think of it as a surface treatment).... the nitrogen bonds/diffuses at the surface layer of the metal and chemically changes/alloys the steel surface layer (increasing hardness and corrosion resistance of the surface while retaining the main steel bodies strength/elasticity).

I've a titanium watch with a nitrided finish - first watch i've bought that wasn't scratched within hours of purchase - the nitriding is very effective.
post #14 of 39
Quote:
Originally Posted by BB Sting View Post

Surely they're working on glare resistant glass screens as well, perhaps even transparent metal? Come on Jobs, invest a billion in transparent aluminum research, don't let a little money get in the way of making the world like star Trek.

There is a lot of military research going into transparent "metals" for use as bullet proof windows. I quoted metals because the Aluminum isn't pure at all and can be likened to a ceramic.

As far as glare resistant, almost everything available will impact image quality. Worst the coatings for glass might not be as durable as Apple would like. There is no easy answer especially after users get use to the quality of the glass screens.

On a side note the screens in the new AIRs are interesting technology wise.
post #15 of 39
Quote:
Originally Posted by Kibitzer View Post

The general coating process is called salt bath nitriding and in itself is not particularly new. I haven't seen the content of Apple's patent yet, but it's likely to embody one or more elements of four unique aspects. 1.) The composition of the substrate. 2.) The composition of the salt bath. 3.) The composition of the nitride mixed into the salt bath. 4.) Process methods, equipment, etc.

I would not be surprised to find out they are using the same old nitriding techniques and simply patenting their use on consummer goods. Nitriding has been around for a very long time so the only thing I could see them having success with patenting would be a high volume process.
post #16 of 39
i've always wondered why there isn't more work done with ceramics.

they can be tough and they don't interfere with radio signals.
post #17 of 39
... from watching Cinema Paradiso?

Oh wait - that was nitrate.

Never mind.
post #18 of 39
While nitriding will make the surface harder and more impact resistant, it also makes it more open to chemical attack as it essentially deposits reactive species on the surface of the metal.

With this in mind, you're unlikely to see it being used on a product made by apple - i don't think they want devices that slowly turn black with age.
post #19 of 39
Quote:
Originally Posted by Prof. Peabody View Post

This is the same kind of coating they sometimes put on high speed drill bits so I'm sure it won't flake off later and although "1,000 on the Vickers Hardness scale" is kind of a meaningless thing to say, it seems like the implication is that it wold be something like five to ten times harder than steel.

For sure, the coating is much harder than steel, but most hard coatings are brittle by themselves. Hard coatings have less tensile strength and malleability, which is why they're applied to a more durable substrate for the specific purpose of providing the surface scratch resistance. There's quite a lot of new metallurgical development going on in this area of late, particularly in the realm of powder metallurgy (PM) parts.

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post #20 of 39
Quote:
Originally Posted by fezzasus View Post

While nitriding will make the surface harder and more impact resistant, it also makes it more open to chemical attack as it essentially deposits reactive species on the surface of the metal.

With this in mind, you're unlikely to see it being used on a product made by apple - i don't think they want devices that slowly turn black with age.

I have never seen a Titanium nitride coating on a cutting tool turn black or corrode in any way.
post #21 of 39
My first use would be for the backs of iPods. As it is now a good sneeze creates a scratch.
post #22 of 39
Quote:
Originally Posted by drandall View Post

i've always wondered why there isn't more work done with ceramics.

they can be tough and they don't interfere with radio signals.

Apple does have a patent on the use of zirconium dioxide in mobile device enclosures. This is the material that ceramic knives are made of. It's very tough and radio transparent. But it might be impractical because of cost and / or difficulty in recycling.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zirconium_dioxide

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post #23 of 39
This is done on the stanchions of high-performance mountain bike suspension forks and the body shafts of rear shocks.

Pretty cool stuff. RockShox has their own nitriding machines out in Colorado; huge bastards! Fox Racing Shox also does this new one called Kashima Coat, from the Miyaki Coporation of Japan.

Fox Racing Shox is about a half hour's drive from Apple HQ. What a logical corporate connection: mountain bikes and computers.
post #24 of 39
Quote:
Originally Posted by frugality View Post

A variety of the Nanos have come in anodized colors, so Apple already has a good track history of testing and producing coatings. Nitriding the surface should (in theory) be even less of a risk, since it's colorless.

Does anyone have a 'dope-slap' smilie? Apple does more than just aesthetic design.


Incorrect. Anodizing chemically changes the outer surface of the aluminum to increase surface hardness (and color can be added). Coatings are much different... and are much prone to all sorts of flaking over time.

So in theory, no, the fact that it is "colorless" doesn't decrease risk in flaking.

Source: I'm a mechanical engineer.
post #25 of 39
Quote:
Originally Posted by gctwnl View Post

The solution for the iPhone 4 antenna-shortcut problem?

But according to everyone defending Apple on this, Apple already made their decision. Why do anything more about a "non-issue"? As for applications for other products, why invest millions of dollars in research when you can just tell your customers "Just don't scratch it that way"?
post #26 of 39
Quote:
Originally Posted by cjcoops View Post

Yup... nitriding stainless steel is nothing new in itself (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nitriding), and Titanium can also be nitrided - in any case, it is NOT a coating (not in its usual sense - think of it as a surface treatment).... the nitrogen bonds/diffuses at the surface layer of the metal and chemically changes/alloys the steel surface layer (increasing hardness and corrosion resistance of the surface while retaining the main steel bodies strength/elasticity).

I've a titanium watch with a nitrided finish - first watch i've bought that wasn't scratched within hours of purchase - the nitriding is very effective.


Interesting that you mention titanium. Didn't the original titanium Powerbook G4's have a problem with paint flaking off?
post #27 of 39
Quote:
Originally Posted by fezzasus View Post

While nitriding will make the surface harder and more impact resistant, it also makes it more open to chemical attack as it essentially deposits reactive species on the surface of the metal.

With this in mind, you're unlikely to see it being used on a product made by apple - i don't think they want devices that slowly turn black with age.

As opposed to white plastic keyboards and laptops that turn yellow with age?
post #28 of 39
They must be wanting to use this to coat the new liquidmetal technology that they have licensed, which would be a natural for the iPhone 5 and the 2nd gen iPad, making it lighter, and resolving the glass breakage issue on the back cover of the iPhone. I doubt this would solve the antenna issue, but a wrap around casing may solve all the issues in one fell swoop.

Plus, you can watch it morph back into its original shape after it gets dented (think "Christine" and "Terminator II")
post #29 of 39
Quote:
Originally Posted by WelshDog View Post

I know this isn't exactly the same, but the DeLorean comes to mind here. Sales of the car were not meeting expectations and one reason was that consumers had only one color choice - stainless. Researchers at DuPont (I think) came up with a paint for the car that apparently looked fantastic. It was transparent so you could see the stainless underneath. One problem. After about a year it would start peeling off the stainless substrate. They could not use it and not long after the car failed in the market place.

This nitride coating is not the same as paint of course, but Apple should be very sure that it will behave as expected in the real world. I would be bad to have customers returning their devices after 6 months because the coating was flaking off.

Something about the head of Delorean making horrible "investments" may have had more to do with the fall of that company. But I get your point about trying to paint stainless. Just an FYI, there are ways to paint metal, the problem is the transparency, not the adhesion.
post #30 of 39
Quote:
Originally Posted by macinthe408 View Post

This is done on the stanchions of high-performance mountain bike suspension forks and the body shafts of rear shocks.

Pretty cool stuff. RockShox has their own nitriding machines out in Colorado; huge bastards! Fox Racing Shox also does this new one called Kashima Coat, from the Miyaki Coporation of Japan.

Fox Racing Shox is about a half hour's drive from Apple HQ. What a logical corporate connection: mountain bikes and computers.

like a bicycle for the mind.
post #31 of 39
Quote:
Originally Posted by fezzasus View Post

While nitriding will make the surface harder and more impact resistant, it also makes it more open to chemical attack as it essentially deposits reactive species on the surface of the metal.

With this in mind, you're unlikely to see it being used on a product made by apple - i don't think they want devices that slowly turn black with age.

No, they want it to start slowly after the one year warranty expires and then accelerate as soon as your two year contract has expired.
post #32 of 39
I remember a former engineer from Apple saying, Jobs gets on "color" kicks. Like everything has to be blue, no clear, no foggy clear, no white. And then no, everything as to be titanium, no aluminum with black, keyboards, black logo, black raccoon border on the screens.

Dell's and HP's are "Corporate" funeral black and pallbearer gray...Sony's are frostbite death blue....the aluminum macs are although very elegant look somewhat mainstream as far as color...especially when compared to the black...

iMagine if Apple changed from "silver" aluminum to an anodized brushed gold finish....I mean every thing...from the entire, laptop, desktop, iPad, iphone, iPod touch and all the ancillary devices like keyboards, mice, routers, TimeMachines, etc?

Brilliant, if I do say so myself! I might even respond to this post and say, "Brilliant!"

Best

And then they change the color scheme of their stores to rich maroon carpet with rosewood/cherry finished tables with warm brass lighting and then have all these brushed gold items sitting on the tables? Brilliant!
post #33 of 39
Quote:
Originally Posted by christopher126 View Post

I remember a former engineer from Apple saying, Jobs gets on "color" kicks. Like everything has to be white. And then no, everything as to be titanium, no aluminum with black, keyboards, black logo, black raccoon border on the screens.

Dell's and HP's are "Corporate" funeral black and pallbearer gray...Sony's are frostbite death blue....the aluminum macs are although very elegant look somewhat mainstream as far as color...especially when compared to the black...

iMagine if Apple changed from "silver" aluminum to an anodized brushed gold finish....I mean every thing...from the entire, laptop, desktop, iPad, iphone, iPod touch and all the ancillary devices like keyboards, mice, routers, TimeMachines, etc?

Brilliant, if I do say so myself! I might even respond to this post and say, "Brilliant!"

Best

And then they change the color scheme of their stores to rich maroon carpet with rosewood/cherry finished tables with warm brass lighting and then have all these brushed gold items sitting on the tables? Brilliant!

Brilliant!
post #34 of 39
Quote:
Originally Posted by Haggar View Post

Interesting that you mention titanium. Didn't the original titanium Powerbook G4's have a problem with paint flaking off?

Yes, but its titanium surfaces weren't the problem. The problem was paint applied to the plastic, which flaked off from the areas where one's palms would tend to rest while typing. Later iterations improved the paint's adhesion (mine hasn't flaked yet, but it's only 8 years old ).

For all the marketing hype, there was a lot of plastic on the Ti Powerbooks - unlike the aluminum models that followed.
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post #35 of 39
Quote:
Originally Posted by AppleInsider View Post

Apple's patent application describes a variety of methods to place the nitride on the surface, ...

Fascinating flowchart. I should patent cooking spaghetti
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post #36 of 39
Quote:
Originally Posted by christopher126 View Post

iMagine if Apple changed from "silver" aluminum to an anodized brushed gold finish....I mean every thing...from the entire, laptop, desktop, iPad, iphone, iPod touch and all the ancillary devices like keyboards, mice, routers, TimeMachines, etc?

Apple's competitors would have a heyday with it. "About time Apple's overpriced stuff came in gold!", etc. etc.

Unless Apple can make it drop-dead gorgeous, they should think twice about this can of worms.
post #37 of 39
Quote:
Originally Posted by sippincider View Post

Apple's competitors would have a heyday with it. "About time Apple's overpriced stuff came in gold!", etc. etc.

Unless Apple can make it drop-dead gorgeous, they should think twice about this can of worms.

Yep, you're probably right!

Oh well, what the hell do I know!
post #38 of 39
Quote:
Originally Posted by christopher126 View Post

iMagine if Apple changed from "silver" aluminum to an anodized brushed gold finish....I mean every thing...from the entire, laptop, desktop, iPad, iphone, iPod touch and all the ancillary devices like keyboards, mice, routers, TimeMachines, etc?

Eeew! Bling!
How about a softly pulsing multi color fading keyboard background light and making the Shift lock light shine through a tiny zirconia?

post #39 of 39
So they want to use liquid metal and nitrade for future iPhones, yet can work to produce a white iPhone. Brilliant.
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