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Carbon fiber could be Apple's key to a lighter next-gen iPad

post #1 of 128
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Apple is exploring the use of carbon fiber to create reinforced housing for its mobile devices, with the iPad a potential candidate to utilize the strong-but-light material.

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office published a new patent application from Apple this week entitled "Reinforced Device Housing." Discovered by AppleInsider, describes an outer shell for electronic devices composed of a "layered fiber-in-matrix type material, such as CFRP," otherwise known as carbon fiber-reinforced polymer.

Illustrations that accompany the filing show a single, unibody housing similar in shape to the iPad. Apple's current, first-generation iPad has a solid aluminum back.

The application notes that electronic devices with housings made of plastic often crack. And those with a metal back are durable, but can be heavier and more expensive.

Even traditional implementations of carbon fiber may not be enough, Apple's application notes. It states that devices made of carbon fiber can crack or break if bent or rolled in a certain way, along the lengthwise axis of the fibers themselves.

Apple's solution would employ either a layered carbon fiber material or a spine or frame made from the same material to support a carbon fiber skin. Using a frame or layers would ensure that the fibers would run in different directions, thus addressing the weakness of carbon fiber housings.



The application also goes into detail as to how a carbon fiber frame for a portable electronic device, like the iPad, would be created. It involves molding the supportive spine to the carbon fiber skin for support.

The application made public this week was first filed on May 18, 2009. The proposed invention is credited to Kevin M. Kenney.



Like the iPad, the first-generation iPhone had a mostly metal back. That was changed to plastic for the iPhone 3G and iPhone 3GS, and a major redesign of the handset with the iPhone 4 led to a glass back.

The rear case of the iPad is made from a single billet of aluminum. In its teardown of the device earlier this year, iFixit noted that the choice of a metal back increases the weight of the iPad, but also greatly improves the rigidity of the device.

Some reports this year tied to rumors of a 7-inch iPad suggested Apple was looking at a smaller form factor because some users felt the current iPad is too heavy. However, Apple Chief Executive Steve Jobs quieted those rumors in October, when he said a 7-inch tablet is too small for most consumers.
post #2 of 128
Just don't twist it!
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post #3 of 128
So this is where we are now. "I have an idea! Let's build bicycles out of unicorn tears one day! They're lightweight and have magical properties!"

"Quick, go get a patent!"

This patent business has gone too far.
post #4 of 128
Quote:
Originally Posted by camroidv27 View Post

Just don't twist it!

.....

Quote:
Apple's solution would employ either a layered carbon fiber material or a spine or frame made from the same material to support a carbon fiber skin. Using a frame or layers would ensure that the fibers would run in different directions, thus addressing the weakness of carbon fiber housings.
post #5 of 128
So no LiquidMetal designs?
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post #6 of 128
There goes all the recycling gains of Aluminum and glass!
post #7 of 128
Quote:
Originally Posted by universeman View Post

So this is where we are now. "I have an idea! Let's build bicycles out of unicorn tears one day! They're lightweight and have magical properties!"

"Quick, go get a patent!"

This patent business has gone too far.

You patent everything that you develop that can be patented. This has always been the case, and it always will. A business is being very lax if they fail to do so. If the patented product isn't useful, then no one else will want it anyway, and it's cheap enough for a large company to do.

Whether this one is useful has yet to be proven. It will be somewhat lighter, but less rigid that the current back, despite the methods used, and will be bulkier.
post #8 of 128
Quote:
Originally Posted by AppleInsider View Post


The application made public this week was first filed on May 18, 20209. The proposed invention is credited to Kevin M. Kenney..

That's rather far in the future.
post #9 of 128
Quote:
Originally Posted by digitalclips View Post

So no LiquidMetal designs?

For something this size, it would be really expensive. When you look at the materials Liquidmetal needs, you can understand why it costs so much. Good for something very small, or something of high value, but not for run of the mill parts.
post #10 of 128
I think that SJ's problem with 7" ipads will turn out to be a red herring.
post #11 of 128
Am I the only one who dislikes carbon fiber and adores aluminum and glass?

Btw, I really think the weight issue is more a battery tec issue than anything else...
post #12 of 128
Quote:
Originally Posted by digitalclips View Post

So no LiquidMetal designs?

No, we have already debunked that piece of nonsense in previous threads, both in terms of extremely high cost and it being a heavy material.

As for this ridiculous patent application. If the patent office are silly enough to grant it, it would get rolled in a court challenge due to prior art. Boat building springs immediately to mind where cloth is wrapped over a PU foam form to make a skin and stiffening member a contiguous structure. Pretty sure it has been done in sailplanes for decades. as well.

Quote:
Originally Posted by christopher126 View Post

There goes all the recycling gains of Aluminum and glass!

Carbon is not exactly in short supply. There are CF recovery systems if we start to run short.
post #13 of 128
Quote:
Originally Posted by myapplelove View Post

Am I the only one who dislikes carbon fiber and adores aluminum and glass?

Btw, I really think the weight issue is more a battery tec issue than anything else...

I like carbon fiber. I don't see the batteries as being a surmountable problem. They are already based on lithium, the lightest metal.

Speaking of which, I wonder why Apple don't look at applying the unibody idea to magnesium instead of Aluminium. There is a glut at the moment and it's cheap. It's Lighter than Al and stiff. I know it is reactive as all hell, but maybe they could coat it with Titanium nitride or some other surface treatment to get round the problem.
post #14 of 128
Quote:
Originally Posted by cnocbui View Post

No, we have already debunked that piece of nonsense in previous threads, both in terms of extremely high cost and it being a heavy material

We? Who's "we"?
post #15 of 128
Quote:
Originally Posted by cnocbui View Post

I like carbon fiber. I don't see the batteries as being a surmountable problem. They are already based on lithium, the lightest metal.

Speaking of which, I wonder why Apple don't look at applying the unibody idea to magnesium instead of Aluminium. There is a glut at the moment and it's cheap. It's Lighter than Al and stiff. I know it is reactive as all hell, but maybe they could coat it with Titanium nitride or some other surface treatment to get round the problem.

Well if they don't make the batteries more effective -still based on lithium- or (something I forgot and which is equally important) the screen tech more efficient I don't think carbon fiber will save that much weight. I mean what's the difference between carbon fiber and aluminum in terms of the shell's weight? I would wager it's not more than 20-30 grams or somewhere along these lines, but if the screen and battery tech gets more efficient that could save something along the lines of 100-200 g.
post #16 of 128
Can someone explain to me exactly how carbon fiber breaks. I understand the concept that if you put stress on an object made out of the material in the same direction as the seams then it will break. What I don't get is how my tripods (I am a t producer) made out of carbon fiber have never broken
post #17 of 128
Don't leave your iPad on the roof of your car and then drive off... My father-in-law figured this rule out the hard way.

His iPad was a crinkly sheet of metal and plastic by the end....
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post #18 of 128
Quote:
Originally Posted by cnocbui View Post

No, we have already debunked that piece of nonsense in previous threads, both in terms of extremely high cost and it being a heavy material.

As for this ridiculous patent application. If the patent office are silly enough to grant it, it would get rolled in a court challenge due to prior art. Boat building springs immediately to mind where cloth is wrapped over a PU foam form to make a skin and stiffening member a contiguous structure. Pretty sure it has been done in sailplanes for decades. as well.



Carbon is not exactly in short supply. There are CF recovery systems if we start to run short.

Boats, road cars, all formula 1 racing cars (which have tremendous impact strength) many different aircraft, both military and non military, and even other computer devices- Sony come to mind. the only thing they can be patenting is some specific manufacturing or design technique, not the use of the material. I would love them to use cfrp for this and the Macbook Air. It's light, won't dent like aluminium and won't dent or scratch other things. And when the device finally dies, it will make a lovely high tech tea tray.
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post #19 of 128
Quote:
Originally Posted by myapplelove View Post

Am I the only one who dislikes carbon fiber and adores aluminum and glass?

Btw, I really think the weight issue is more a battery tec issue than anything else...

I hate carbon fiber. Hope apple continues with their present materials.
post #20 of 128
Quote:
Originally Posted by myapplelove View Post

Am I the only one who dislikes carbon fiber and adores aluminum and glass?

No, I feel exactly the same way.
post #21 of 128
Carbon fiber has been used in kayaks for quite a long time now.

Enough manufacturing and real-life experience to learn a lot via research.

The nanotube stuff is what might come next.
post #22 of 128
I do wonder how much of a difference this would actually make. Surely the bulk of the weight is in the battery and the glass screen, so the percentage weight change by just making the back out of carbon fibre would be next to nothing.
post #23 of 128
Quote:
Originally Posted by huntson View Post

Can someone explain to me exactly how carbon fiber breaks. I understand the concept that if you put stress on an object made out of the material in the same direction as the seams then it will break. What I don't get is how my tripods (I am a t producer) made out of carbon fiber have never broken

The carbon fibers in your tripod are not aligned, so different layers go in different directions to reinforce the material. That part of Apple's patent is not the unique part. Anything made of carbon fiber is made that way. The claimed unique aspect of Apple's patent is the use of an internal frame to support the skin and to prevent bending and twisting of the device, and I'm not even sure that is unique anymore.

I'm not sure how feasible this design would turn out to be. The frame would protect from bending, but in order to save any signficant amount of weight and avoid making the device thicker (we all know how Apple likes thin devices), the skin itself would have to be very thin. It would be like a drum head that you could push in and out. In order to protect the internal components, the skin would have to be relatively thick or include additional internal spars to support the skin. In the end, the additional cost of manufacturing the carbon fiber shell would probably outweigh (no pun intended) and marginal weight savings.
post #24 of 128
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post #25 of 128
Quote:
Originally Posted by universeman View Post

So this is where we are now. "I have an idea! Let's build bicycles out of unicorn tears one day! They're lightweight and have magical properties!"

"Quick, go get a patent!"

This patent business has gone too far.

Yeah, because there are so many cars, and other products already being built out of unicorn tears...

Are you trolling, or just daft?
post #26 of 128
Quote:
Originally Posted by cnocbui View Post

No, we have already debunked that piece of nonsense in previous threads, both in terms of extremely high cost and it being a heavy material.

As for this ridiculous patent application. If the patent office are silly enough to grant it, it would get rolled in a court challenge due to prior art. Boat building springs immediately to mind where cloth is wrapped over a PU foam form to make a skin and stiffening member a contiguous structure. Pretty sure it has been done in sailplanes for decades. as well.



Carbon is not exactly in short supply. There are CF recovery systems if we start to run short.

Ok, sorry to have missed the debunking. I was under the impression as it was so much stronger it could be far thinner thus overcoming the weight issue.
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post #27 of 128
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Originally Posted by daniel9ds View Post

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Hi Daniel. Welcome to AI. Try to avoid the trolls, we have plenty of them
post #28 of 128
Quote:
Originally Posted by cnocbui View Post

I like carbon fiber. I don't see the batteries as being a surmountable problem. They are already based on lithium, the lightest metal.

Speaking of which, I wonder why Apple don't look at applying the unibody idea to magnesium instead of Aluminium. There is a glut at the moment and it's cheap. It's Lighter than Al and stiff. I know it is reactive as all hell, but maybe they could coat it with Titanium nitride or some other surface treatment to get round the problem.

You mean make them out of magnesium like the cases of the old NeXT machines?

From what I remember that was one of the reasons they had problems manufacturing them, but maybe that's been solved now.
post #29 of 128
Quote:
Originally Posted by Cascadians View Post

Carbon fiber has been used in kayaks for quite a long time now.

Airplanes, too. Anywhere lightness and strength are at a premium is a potential application for carbon fiber. Speaking of airplanes, they are most often constructed with a rigid skin over supporting spars and ribs. This method of construction, known as semi-monocoque, has been around for nearly 100 years.
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post #30 of 128
Quote:
Originally Posted by Isidore View Post

Boats, road cars, all formula 1 racing cars (which have tremendous impact strength) many different aircraft, both military and non military, and even other computer devices- Sony come to mind. the only thing they can be patenting is some specific manufacturing or design technique, not the use of the material. I would love them to use cfrp for this and the Macbook Air. It's light, won't dent like aluminium and won't dent or scratch other things. And when the device finally dies, it will make a lovely high tech tea tray.

if they manage to not make it look like shit as in the sony's I am all for it but as is aluminum hands down.
post #31 of 128
Quote:
Originally Posted by cnocbui View Post

Carbon is not exactly in short supply. There are CF recovery systems if we start to run short.

I think his concern is about waste and the value of recycling that waste, not about carbon being plentiful.
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post #32 of 128
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Originally Posted by daniel9ds View Post

I am a newbie here and just wanna say Hi to everyone. I am Daniel from Pennsylvania, US.


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Welcome to AI Dan, enjoy your stay here.
post #33 of 128
Quote:
Originally Posted by 801 View Post

I think that SJ's problem with 7" ipads will turn out to be a red herring.

7 Inch devices are the key to most of Apple's competitors. The reason is simple, Apple's iPad doesn't encroach on it's smaller iOS devices. Most of Apple's competitors can't compete with the smaller iOS devices. That means that if everyone else sticks to 7 inch devices, they can clean up sales from both ends of Apple products.

Unfortunately, I love my Mac too much to give it an android based companion. /bummer
post #34 of 128
Aluminum back 138 grams
Battery 148 grams
LCD 153 grams
Glass (and frame) 193 grams
Speaker: 17 grams
Main board: 21 grams
Everything else: 27 grams

Looks to me as though the Al is relatively a very small factor in the weight of the iPad...

That said, I own a magnesium electric bike an it's the lightest electric bike around - sure would like to see a Mg laptop first hand, not sure if it would work with apple's designs though!
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post #35 of 128
Quote:
Originally Posted by solipsism View Post

I think his concern is about waste and the value of recycling that waste, not about carbon being plentiful.

Some types of carbon fiber and fabrics are in short supply, it would just depend on what fiber is chosen. The basic concept in the patent is not novel, but application to computer frames probably is. Unless Apple can come up with an automated lay-up and molding procedure the cost of these type backs would be really high. There is probably 4 or 5 dollars worth of materials in these backs, but the molding and lay-up costs could be pretty high.
post #36 of 128
Quote:
Originally Posted by oseame View Post

Aluminum back 138 grams
Battery 148 grams
LCD 153 grams
Glass (and frame) 193 grams
Speaker: 17 grams
Main board: 21 grams
Everything else: 27 grams

Looks to me as though the Al is relatively a very small factor in the weight of the iPad...

That said, I own a magnesium electric bike an it's the lightest electric bike around - sure would like to see a Mg laptop first hand, not sure if it would work with apple's designs though!

A battery fire in a Mg framed laptop may be very interesting indeed.
post #37 of 128
When I suggested the use of Carbon Fiber, a few months back when rumors of the Air redesign, people jumped down my neck because of Carbon's poor wireless "transmission" capabilities.

So,
Bluetooth, Wireless N, GPS, and other possible radio's,
have no issue's with Carbon?
post #38 of 128
It's nice to see that Apple has been listening to some of the sailboat builders about construction ideas.
post #39 of 128
Seems to me that Apple has no choice but to file these types of patents, more to protect themselves from all the gold diggers who would use them to attack them were they in possession of them...
post #40 of 128
Quote:
Originally Posted by cnocbui View Post

No, we have already debunked that piece of nonsense in previous threads, both in terms of extremely high cost and it being a heavy material.

As for this ridiculous patent application. If the patent office are silly enough to grant it, it would get rolled in a court challenge due to prior art. Boat building springs immediately to mind where cloth is wrapped over a PU foam form to make a skin and stiffening member a contiguous structure. Pretty sure it has been done in sailplanes for decades. as well.



Carbon is not exactly in short supply. There are CF recovery systems if we start to run short.

Don't be so sure. The patent process is more complex than you think. Anyone may take one or more patented concepts from anyone else, and roll them into another one, as long as doing so provides either a new use, or a noticeable improvement over the old patent.
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