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Apple granted invention of scratch-proof nitride metal device coating

post #1 of 54
Thread Starter 
Apple has been granted ownership of an invention related to scratch-proof coatings on stainless steel devices, using a nitride layer to potentially make iPhones, iPads and Macs more durable.

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office this week granted ownership of the invention "Nitriding Stainless Steel for Consumer Electronic Products" to Apple. Known as U.S. Patent No. 7896981, it describes a cost-effective system that uses a nitride coating to prevent scratches and blemishes on the metal surface of a mobile device.

Adding a layer of nitride atop a stainless steel exterior would protect a device from damage. But the choice of material would maintain the look and feel of stainless steel, as nitride allows the color of the metal to show through.

Nitride is not to be confused with titanium nitride, a ceramic material that is also used as a coating on metal. Unlike nitride, which is clear, titanium nitride has a metallic gold color that conceals the look of the metal beneath it.

Apple's invention notes that stainless steel, while scratch-prone, is an ideal material to craft electronic devices. Stainless steel is preferable because it is not magnetic, and it is less likely to inhibit wireless technology like a cell phone signal, Wi-Fi or Bluetooth.

The addition of nitride could give Apple the best of both worlds: the advantages of stainless steel would remain, while a nitride coating would address the chief concern of durability.



The invention also includes specifics on how the nitride coating would be applied to a device. It describes using a salt bath nitride process to coat stainless steel with an initial layer at least 15 to 30 microns thick and with a Vickers Hardness value of at least 1,000. Another method would use a nitrogen salt bath with an average temperature of no more than 580 degrees Celsius.

After the stainless steel sits in a superheated salt bath for between 45 and 90 minutes, the material would be removed and the nitride layer would be polished to remove no more than 10 percent, resulting in a smooth exterior.



Apple first filed for the invention in April of 2010. It was discovered last October by AppleInsider, when the filing was made public by the USPTO. The invention is credited to Douglas Weber.
post #2 of 54
Stainless steel is generally brittle but I guess for a phone or computer it would be ok.
post #3 of 54
Apple has so many future options for casing it seems. This, carbon fiber, stronger glass to name just a few. I'm very curious to see which options make it to market.
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post #4 of 54
So even though the patent was only just granted, would Apple have already begun using this on their products? My current aluminum MacBook and my original iPhone, as well as my wife's iMac all seem to be very scratch/blemish resistant. Is it possible thay have already been using this, or are their aluminum products just now going to be even more scratch proof than they already were?
post #5 of 54
Scratch RESISTANT, not scratch PROOF!
Scratch RESISTANT, not scratch PROOF!
post #6 of 54
Does it insulate antennas...?
post #7 of 54
Quote:
Originally Posted by DJinTX View Post

So even though the patent was only just granted, would Apple have already begun using this on their products? My current aluminum MacBook and my original iPhone, as well as my wife's iMac all seem to be very scratch/blemish resistant. Is it possible thay have already been using this, or are their aluminum products just now going to be even more scratch proof than they already were?

I doubt they are already using it. This will probably be introduced into their new iPod line this fall and possibly into the iPad 2 (whose material we are uncertain about).

Quote:
Originally Posted by tikiman View Post

Scratch RESISTANT, not scratch PROOF!
Scratch RESISTANT, not scratch PROOF!

Actually...

Quote:
Originally Posted by AppleInsider View Post

it describes a cost-effective system that uses a nitride coating to prevent scratches and blemishes on the metal surface of a mobile device.

Key word there being "prevent" not reduce. True, it may not be completely preventable, but it may be nigh scratch-proof.
GIGO. The truth in all of life.
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GIGO. The truth in all of life.
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post #8 of 54
I was under the impression Apple was going to employ LM instead of SS in their small electronics.
post #9 of 54
Quote:
Originally Posted by AppleInsider View Post

...Stainless steel is preferable because it is not magnetic...

Er... Yes, it is.
post #10 of 54
Quote:
Originally Posted by asterion View Post

Er... Yes, it is.


\tfrom: http://www.physlink.com/education/askexperts/ae546.cfm

\tQuestion

Is stainless steel magnetic? Does it depend on the amount of chromium, or nickel alloy?

Asked by: James McGuigan

Answer

Stainless steels are a very broad group of metals. The name was adopted as a generic term for steel alloys with a minimum of 10.5% chromium. The chromium gives the steel its 'stainless' properties - essentially corrosion resistance. On the surface of the metal, a very thin chromium-rich oxide layer is formed which is inert - i.e. it prevents the steel from rusting. The advantage of stainless steels over plated steels is that, if scratched or damaged, the steel will 'self-repair' as a new oxide layer is formed. In plated steels, scratches in the plate will often lead to corrosion of the steel underneath.

In general, the higher the proportion of chromium, the stronger the corrosion resistance of the steel. In addition to chromium, other metals are added to give the steel particular properties such as strength and malleability. Specifically nickel is used to strengthen the oxide layer.

As for whether they are magnetic, the answer is that it depends. There are several families of stainless steels with different physical properties. A basic stainless steel has a 'ferritic' structure and is magnetic. These are formed from the addition of chromium and can be hardened through the addition of carbon (making them 'martensitic') and are often used in cutlery. However, the most common stainless steels are 'austenitic' - these have a higher chromium content and nickel is also added. It is the nickel which modifies the physical structure of the steel and makes it non-magnetic.

So the answer is yes, the magnetic properties of stainless steel are very dependent on the elements added into the alloy, and specifically the addition of nickel can change the structure from magnetic to non-magnetic.

The following company website has a useful high-level definition of the broad stainless steel categories. http://www.parkrow.org/stainless_steel.htm
post #11 of 54
90min for each casing in a bath.

You'd want a lot of baths / baths able to take many units. 90 would only give you 1 unit per minute, 1440 a day, 10,080 a week (given a 24hr production line) for 524,000 a year.

If you roll out 25mil iPads, not including other product lines that is 4300 ish baths going flat out not including moving units in and out or refreshing said baths.

That is also a lot of material and energy to consider. The volumes are enormous.

I'm not saying impossible or anything. I just find the volume of materials being processed and the logistics really interesting.
you only have freedom in choice when you know you have no choice
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you only have freedom in choice when you know you have no choice
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post #12 of 54
Quote:
Originally Posted by cy_starkman View Post

90min for each casing in a bath.

You'd want a lot of baths / baths able to take many units. 90 would only give you 1 unit per minute, 1440 a day, 10,080 a week (given a 24hr production line) for 524,000 a year.

If you roll out 25mil iPads, not including other product lines that is 4300 ish baths going flat out not including moving units in and out or refreshing said baths.

That is also a lot of material and energy to consider. The volumes are enormous.

I'm not saying impossible or anything. I just find the volume of materials being processed and the logistics really interesting.

Hmmm, so maybe that "data center" in North Carolina is really just full of bathtubs.
post #13 of 54
It's good to see Apple is researching new ways to use old metals.

Wi we see a stainless ipad, MacBook pro, or iPhone? Who knows. But bring on the innovation, it only makes Apple stand out of the crowd.
post #14 of 54
Quote:
Originally Posted by cy_starkman View Post

90min for each casing in a bath.

You'd want a lot of baths / baths able to take many units. 90 would only give you 1 unit per minute, 1440 a day, 10,080 a week (given a 24hr production line) for 524,000 a year.

If you roll out 25mil iPads, not including other product lines that is 4300 ish baths going flat out not including moving units in and out or refreshing said baths.

That is also a lot of material and energy to consider. The volumes are enormous.

I'm not saying impossible or anything. I just find the volume of materials being processed and the logistics really interesting.

So you imagine an industrial scale assembly line giving each unit a private bath, one at a time? more likely it would either be 100 (or more) dipped into a large bath all at the same time - or a continuous ride through a bath for 90 seconds - with one unit entering every second on the front end and another emerging every second at the back end for 1 unit every 1 second through the bath = 60 a minute = 3600 an hour = 86,400 a day = 604,800 a week = over 30 million a year.
post #15 of 54
Quote:
Originally Posted by eswinson View Post

Stainless steel is generally brittle but I guess for a phone or computer it would be ok.

Brittle, huh? Guess all those automakers out there putting stainless steel exhausts on cars (and that's just about all of them), better watch out....
post #16 of 54
Quote:
Originally Posted by frugality View Post

Brittle, huh? Guess all those automakers out there putting stainless steel exhausts on cars (and that's just about all of them), better watch out....

Exhaust systems are generally not under any load or stress. Stainless steel is also great for high heat applications but not so great in applications that involve lateral loads as anyone that has ever broke the tip off a knife will tell you. In a static object that will not get dropped from very high or twisted under any torque like a phone or laptop stainless steel will probably be fine.
post #17 of 54
Quote:
Originally Posted by cy_starkman View Post

90min for each casing in a bath.

You'd want a lot of baths / baths able to take many units. 90 would only give you 1 unit per minute, 1440 a day, 10,080 a week (given a 24hr production line) for 524,000 a year.

If you roll out 25mil iPads, not including other product lines that is 4300 ish baths going flat out not including moving units in and out or refreshing said baths.

That is also a lot of material and energy to consider. The volumes are enormous.

I'm not saying impossible or anything. I just find the volume of materials being processed and the logistics really interesting.


You don't have to dip just one casing in the bath at the same time, my friend.
post #18 of 54
Quote:
Originally Posted by eswinson View Post

Exhaust systems are generally not under any load or stress. Stainless steel is also great for high heat applications but not so great in applications that involve lateral loads as anyone that has ever broke the tip off a knife will tell you. ...

The first mistake in that case was to buy a stainless steel knife, the second to use it as a pry bar.
post #19 of 54
.

Yea yea, all very interesting

But know something that's impossible to penetrate

My ex's thick skull




.


(and hope it never gets patented)
post #20 of 54
Sorry to say they haven't invented a material yet that can prevent dumb people from dropping their macbooks on the floor.
post #21 of 54
Quote:
Originally Posted by BC Kelly View Post

.

Yea yea, all very interesting

But know something that's impossible to penetrate

My ex's thick skull




.


(and hope it never gets patented)


Thats only cuz you're not the sharpest tool in the shed
post #22 of 54
Quote:
Originally Posted by eswinson View Post

Stainless steel is generally brittle but I guess for a phone or computer it would be ok.

SS isn't brittle. Where do you get that idea?
post #23 of 54
Quote:
Originally Posted by tikiman View Post

Scratch RESISTANT, not scratch PROOF!
Scratch RESISTANT, not scratch PROOF!

Correct!
post #24 of 54
Quote:
Originally Posted by Smiles77 View Post

I doubt they are already using it. This will probably be introduced into their new iPod line this fall and possibly into the iPad 2 (whose material we are uncertain about).



Actually...



Key word there being "prevent" not reduce. True, it may not be completely preventable, but it may be nigh scratch-proof.

As we know, Aluminum is anodized. It's a very hard coating which can be damaged because the substrate is soft.

Nothing is scratch proof, including diamond. Most SS is fairly soft, though much harder than plain aluminum. This will make it much harder. Though, being a thin layer, it can still be broken through with something sharp.
post #25 of 54
Quote:
Originally Posted by asterion View Post

Er... Yes, it is.

It depends on the alloy. There are magnetic alloys, and non magnetic alloys. Look them up.
post #26 of 54
Quote:
Originally Posted by cy_starkman View Post

90min for each casing in a bath.

You'd want a lot of baths / baths able to take many units. 90 would only give you 1 unit per minute, 1440 a day, 10,080 a week (given a 24hr production line) for 524,000 a year.

If you roll out 25mil iPads, not including other product lines that is 4300 ish baths going flat out not including moving units in and out or refreshing said baths.

That is also a lot of material and energy to consider. The volumes are enormous.

I'm not saying impossible or anything. I just find the volume of materials being processed and the logistics really interesting.

It's not a big deal. Industry does this in volume. One bath might hold a hundred or more at once. They might have one, ten, or fifty baths in a plant.
post #27 of 54
Quote:
Originally Posted by eswinson View Post

Exhaust systems are generally not under any load or stress. Stainless steel is also great for high heat applications but not so great in applications that involve lateral loads as anyone that has ever broke the tip off a knife will tell you. In a static object that will not get dropped from very high or twisted under any torque like a phone or laptop stainless steel will probably be fine.

Stainless is not brittle by default. If you use, say, a 440 alloy for making knives, and you harden it sufficiently, then, as all hardened metals, it becomes more brittle. But otherwise, it's not.
post #28 of 54
Personally I would like Apple to use tungsten carbide. Aside from the weight issue, it's a very tough metal (not indestructible though). I've tried scratching my tungsten ring with concrete, high speed steel, anodized aluminum... no scratches at all thus far. I do take my ring off when working with diamond abrasives though
post #29 of 54
Quote:
Originally Posted by marokero View Post

Personally I would like Apple to use tungsten carbide. Aside from the weight issue, it's a very tough metal (not indestructible though). I've tried scratching my tungsten ring with concrete, high speed steel, anodized aluminum... no scratches at all thus far. I do take my ring off when working with diamond abrasives though

On the other hand, tungsten carbide IS brittle. It's very hard, and very stiff. But, a good smack, and it shatters. My tungsten carbide milling bits break the cutting edges on the slightest provocation. Everything must be just right . HSS is much more forgiving.
post #30 of 54
Quote:
Originally Posted by revilre View Post

Thats only cuz you're not the sharpest tool in the shed



Ha ha ha ... Funny Guy, eh ?




But yes, will admit

Sharp or otherwise

I ain't no "tool"



.

Now ...

If you're maybe able to "penetrate"

Please let me know if find ANYthing in there ?


Good Luck



.
post #31 of 54
Quote:
Originally Posted by jukes View Post

Does it insulate antennas...?

Consumer Reports insulates antennas.

"Apple should pull the plug on the iPhone."

John C. Dvorak, 2007
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"Apple should pull the plug on the iPhone."

John C. Dvorak, 2007
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post #32 of 54
Quote:
Originally Posted by melgross View Post

As we know, Aluminum is anodized. It's a very hard coating which can be damaged because the substrate is soft.

Nothing is scratch proof, including diamond. Most SS is fairly soft, though much harder than plain aluminum. This will make it much harder. Though, being a thin layer, it can still be broken through with something sharp.

Unobtanium. It is so dense, you could throw it into a black hole and it would resist scratching.

"Apple should pull the plug on the iPhone."

John C. Dvorak, 2007
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"Apple should pull the plug on the iPhone."

John C. Dvorak, 2007
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post #33 of 54
Quote:
Originally Posted by marokero View Post

I was under the impression Apple was going to employ LM instead of SS in their small electronics.

Maybe the iPhone 5 "band" and iPod enclosures will be nitride-coated stainless steel, and the MacBook lines will switch to Liquid Metal unibody enclosures. The iPhone and iPod internal structures are relatively simple compared to the MacBooks. Machining all that complexity into a billet of aluminum alloy for each and every MacBook is time-consuming. And time is money in manufacturing. Supposedly Liquid Metal would allow a faster injection-molding-like technique.

Also, just as a silly wild-ass guess, I'd say that Liquid Metal enclosures could allow Apple to use polished as well as matte finishes on future MacBooks. As rugged as the current aluminum unibody MacBooks are, the aluminum surface is still relatively easy to scratch. I think that's one reason why they are all currently matte-finish. To minimize the visibility of surface scratches (and of course to minimize the visibility of fingerprints.)

But if Liquid Metal is as scratch-resistant as Apple claims, it would be possible to use highly polished surfaces on MacBooks or other devices with Liquid Metal enclosures. Not sure how Apple could solve the cosmetic issue of hundreds of greasy fingerprints on shiny metal though.

Another silly idea: instead of a white plastic Apple logo on MacBook lids, Apple could use the same micro-perforated metal technique they use for the sleep indicator. The metal itself would appear to glow when the MacBook is on. And to make the Apple logo visible when the MacBook is off, it could have a different finish than the rest of the enclosure. Matte if the MacBook is polished, polished if the MacBook is matte. Voila. The last vestige of white plastic in Apple computer enclosures would be gone.

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post #34 of 54
Quote:
Originally Posted by asterion View Post

Er... Yes, it is.

Austenitic Stainless is a high quality stainless steel and is non-magnetic.

Ferritic and Martensitic (this is the more brittle one) stainless steels are magnetic and are used for different applications due to their unique properties.

Take a magnet with you the next time you buy a new kitchen sink and ask if it is high quality stainless or not. You can now test on the spot...

Tom
post #35 of 54
I really wonder how defensible this patent is. This seems like a rather normal materials engineering process. I'd bet that there's a lot of aerospace and/or automotive companies that might use similar treatments for certain parts.

It's of course a great way to improve durability. But a patent for the process seems rather sketchy to me.
post #36 of 54
Quote:
Originally Posted by BC Kelly View Post

.

Yea yea, all very interesting

But know something that's impossible to penetrate

My ex's thick skull




.


(and hope it never gets patented)


best on the boards, kicked her wasteful arse to the DOOR...you made my day
i'm still laughing

oh and guess what....she hated macs...reason right there
I APPLE THEREFORE I AM
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I APPLE THEREFORE I AM
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post #37 of 54
I really wonder how defensible this patent is. This seems like a rather normal materials engineering process. I'd bet that there's a lot of aerospace and/or automotive companies that might use similar treatments for certain parts.

It's of course a great way to improve durability. But a patent for the process seems rather sketchy to me.
post #38 of 54
iPod backs that don't scratch if you so much as look at them? Count me in.
post #39 of 54
Im a Mechanical Eng. Nitriding is not exotic (even some stainless derivitive, with some tweaked alloying elements), this should not have been granted a patent.
post #40 of 54
Quote:
Originally Posted by agolongo View Post

Im a Mechanical Eng. Nitriding is not exotic (even some stainless derivitive, with some tweaked alloying elements), this should not have been granted a patent.

You are exactly correct that this patent was, in the parlance, "improvidently awarded".

Everything imaginable has been nitrided from aircraft propellers to diesel crankshafts and a lot of things in between. This is nothing new and nothing but hype anyway.
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