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Apple interested in creating colorful, durable carbon fiber devices

post #1 of 48
Thread Starter 
Future devices from Apple could be built with a super-durable and light material like carbon fiber, but could also be available in a variety of colors thanks to a composite laminate surface.

Apple's concept for coloring carbon or even glass fiber devices was revealed this week in a patent application published by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and discovered by AppleInsider. Entitled "Composite Laminate having an Improved Cosmetic Surface and Method of Making Same," it describes a composite laminate placed over the frame of the device, including a "scrim layer," to allow a product like a MacBook Pro to be painted a variety of colors.

The application notes that carbon fiber composites offer many benefits, as they can serve as a strong, lightweight housing for electronic equipment. But carbon fiber composites are also typically black, and the fibers themselves are usually visible on the surface of the device.

Additionally, Apple said the fibers of such material are usually variable in construction, offering a varied appearance on the surface. As a result, carbon fiber can feature cosmetic imperfections that would reduce the aesthetic appearance of a device.

"Further, carbon fiber composites, often being black, provide a narrow range of surface appearance to the molded article and therefore may give a 'tired,' unexciting look," the application reads.

Apple's solution is a composite laminate that includes a plurality of sheets that could be colored. These sheets would be formed of fibers pre-impregnated with resin.

The composite laminate surface placed on the outside of the device could allow it to retain a color, and an exterior scrim layer would give a device enclosure a "consistent and pleasing cosmetic surface," Apple said.

The underlying sheets of "prepreg," which can be stacked to allow varying levels of thickness, would be fused together during the molding process of a device's external casing. The sheets made of woven fibers are impregnated with a resin to give it color.



The application, made public this week, was first filed in September of 2009. The proposed invention is credited to John Difonzo and Chris Ligtenberg.

Apple has shown interest in adopting carbon fiber for its devices for years. As far back as 2008, the company was said to be looking at the possibility of using carbon fiber to build a lighter MacBook Air, though those plans never panned out.

The company's continued interest in carbon fiber was demonstrated in a patent application in 2009 in a 9-page filing. In fact, the latest 8-page application made public this week is a division of that separate filing, first made in October of 2007.



And last year, yet another patent filing showed a new iPad with a carbon fiber reinforced housing. That application likely helped to fuel rumors that the iPad 2 would have a carbon fiber body, though the final shipping product stuck with an aluminum exterior.

In the iPad application, Apple described molding a supportive spine to a carbon fiber skin for a unique implementation of the material, in order to address issues where carbon fiber can crack or break if bent or rolled in a certain way. The company noted that devices with a metal back are durable, but can be heavier and more expensive.
post #2 of 48
Filed in aught nine, huh?

Sounds like Apple covering their bases from when that one carbon fiber Sony laptop was new.

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post #3 of 48
Hmmmm looking at my simple and minimal iMac with it's effortless stylish aluminium unibody exterior, then I glance over at the complicated heavy layered plastic iMac G5 and wonder why Apple would want to start paining and adding layers to stuff.
post #4 of 48
Quote:
Originally Posted by macadam212 View Post

Hmmmm looking at my simple and minimal iMac with it's effortless stylish aluminium unibody exterior, then I glance over at the complicated heavy layered plastic iMac G5 and wonder why Apple would want to start paining and adding layers to stuff.

It's the environmental aspect too. Can't beat aluminium and glass for recyclability. Sure, call me brainwashed but remember all that hype about e-waste? Well, it's all the rest of the world churning out all these rubbish plastic clunky bloatware-ridden laptops and now, crapblets. Instant landfill, they are.
post #5 of 48
Why is wallpapering a rough surface a new invention?
post #6 of 48
I like the current eco friendly machines. Dumping of e-waste is a serious problem.
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post #7 of 48
Hmm, Apple's Materials Scientists need to start looking for 'durable' rather than 'strong' when researching materials for making cases for phones from. Just watch any YouTube clip of a typical Formula One accident and you'll see that on impact the carbon fibre shatters into thousands of fragments because while strong, they are brittle. Haven't they learned that with the glass backs of the iP4?
post #8 of 48
You can have any color you want, as long as it's either white or black.
post #9 of 48
Quote:
Originally Posted by SwissMac2 View Post

Hmm, Apple's Materials Scientists need to start looking for 'durable' rather than 'strong' when researching materials for making cases for phones from. Just watch any YouTube clip of a typical Formula One accident and you'll see that on impact the carbon fibre shatters into thousands of fragments because while strong, they are brittle. Haven't they learned that with the glass backs of the iP4?

iPads rarely crash at hundreds of kilometres an hour though.
post #10 of 48
Quote:
Originally Posted by zanc View Post

Why is wallpapering a rough surface a new invention?

They are talking about something more complicated, but the excessive use of boiler plate explanation text in the article kind of confuses the issue.

The article mentions colouring the outside layer that smooths off the product a bit too often, (even though this is already done by others and not really the invention per se.) It looks to me like Apple is talking about colouring multiple layers of fibre (that may or may not be "carbon fibre"), and laminating that lamination onto the carbon fibre layers during the manufacturing process, giving it a deeper layer of integrated colour and thus avoiding the cosmetic problems that lead other to make their products black.

Combined with the other process (with the frame) to make the product shell stiffer and more durable, it could be a complete solution for something like an iPad shell. They may never come out with one, but it's nice to know they are still researching it.

Aluminium is a bad material for hand-held wireless devices. Options are always good.
post #11 of 48
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Originally Posted by Prof. Peabody View Post

iPads rarely crash at hundreds of kilometres an hour though.

Statement of the week!
post #12 of 48
Quote:
Originally Posted by SwissMac2 View Post

Just watch any YouTube clip of a typical Formula One accident and you'll see that on impact the carbon fibre shatters into thousands of fragments because while strong, they are brittle.

It's the fiberglass bodywork you see shatter; the carbon composite monocoque remains intact at high speed impacts and protects the driver. All that brittle stuff you see flying around is designed to break off, only the cell protecting the driver remains intact.

.tsooJ
post #13 of 48
It's called R&D. Not everything comes to fruition at the moment, within a few time cycles or even ever. However, one idea can lead to another idea that is successful. The glue that wouldn't hold became Post-it notes. It's right brain thinking. Leonard Da Vinci, Einstein, Jonathan Ive, multitudes think this way. It's where great ideas come from.

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post #14 of 48
Quote:
Apple's concept for coloring carbon or even glass fiber devices was revealed this week in a patent application published by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office

Samsung, I'm watching you, don't do it, if you debut a copycat CF iPhone, iPad or MBA, I'm gonna write some very, very bad things about you.
post #15 of 48
Like the idea, will be cheaper for them to ship by plane cause the lower weight
post #16 of 48
Beware small carbon fibers in your flesh. They become very painful.
post #17 of 48
This exact process has been done in the Automative, Marine, and aircraft business for the last 20 years.... I see no way it could be a valid patent, but the way the system is so screwed up now, they will probably get it...
post #18 of 48
Quote:
Originally Posted by Tallest Skil View Post

Filed in aught nine, huh?

Sounds like Apple covering their bases from when that one carbon fiber Sony laptop was new.

This is just the patent on coloring the fibers. The first one for using carbon fiber was 2 years earlier


Quote:
Originally Posted by sranger View Post

This exact process has been done in the Automative, Marine, and aircraft business for the last 20 years.... I see no way it could be a valid patent,

was it done with carbon fiber and done by coloring the fibers before construction as is said in this patent.

If the answer is no to either then that's how it is a valid patent

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post #19 of 48
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Originally Posted by starwarrior View Post

Beware small carbon fibers in your flesh. They become very painful.

The resins are also very nasty when uncured. Definitely not something I would want around me for hours a day! Manufacuring this stuff is NOT fun, a messy process.
post #20 of 48
I guess now we know where all the colour from Lion and iTunes has gone. They were saving it up for this.

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post #21 of 48
Perfect time for Apple to announce their sponsorship of an F-1 team, the Apple logo sitting proudly on the carbon-fiber body of a Ferrari or Mercedes.
post #22 of 48
Quote:
Originally Posted by SwissMac2 View Post

Hmm, Apple's Materials Scientists need to start looking for 'durable' rather than 'strong' when researching materials for making cases for phones from. Just watch any YouTube clip of a typical Formula One accident and you'll see that on impact the carbon fibre shatters into thousands of fragments because while strong, they are brittle. Haven't they learned that with the glass backs of the iP4?


Actually that is by design, the cars outer shell is design in a way to shatter, in the case of car going 200MPH you want the energy to be absorbed and dissipated not transfer to the driver. So ridge and strong is bad from an impact stand point, flexible & pliable is what you want.

Today all cars are design to just crumble and fall apart as they are impacted this helps dissipated the energy and reduce the impact. Remember speed does not kill the sudden stop that does. Same go for things falling and hit the ground, so the more flexable and pliable you can make a product the better it will do on impact.
post #23 of 48
Especially glass which seldom is recycled. For the most part it is cheaper to make glass from fresh materials.

Aluminum is a bit trickyer But I honestly don't see Apples method of making iPads case as extremely energy efficient. In the end I wouldn't be surprised to find that a carbon based shell ends up with less contained energy. Think about how much material remains after machining the back or shell. Yeah it can be recycled, but both the recycling and the machining are not free environmentally.

As to craplets well poor design is poor design. That does not mean that Appple will also engage in poor design. A molded carbon fiber back could actually lead to a significant improvement in the iPad, possible the AIR and especially the handheld devices.

As a side note I worked for a bit in the metal die casting industry. I often wonder why Apple doesn't consider such technology for its pocketable devices. You get near net shape parts without the excessive waste of machined parts. I was actually hoping that Apples purchasing of rights to "Liquid" metals would lead to something new even revolutionary here. Basically a way to build high volume parts that are very strong yet reasonably light.

Quote:
Originally Posted by nvidia2008 View Post

It's the environmental aspect too. Can't beat aluminium and glass for recyclability. Sure, call me brainwashed but remember all that hype about e-waste? Well, it's all the rest of the world churning out all these rubbish plastic clunky bloatware-ridden laptops and now, crapblets. Instant landfill, they are.
post #24 of 48
Quote:
Originally Posted by SwissMac2 View Post

Hmm, Apple's Materials Scientists need to start looking for 'durable' rather than 'strong' when researching materials for making cases for phones from.

On the face of it a reasonable request. However durable often equates to ugly. I have at my disposal a bunch of handheld electronic instrumentation. Some of this stuff is very durable as designed and then the manufactures supply you with a rubber boot to make the device even more idiot proof. Durable yes but also ugly, plus a massive rubber boot makes it look a bit obscene if put in your pocket.
Quote:
Just watch any YouTube clip of a typical Formula One accident and you'll see that on impact the carbon fibre shatters into thousands of fragments because while strong, they are brittle. Haven't they learned that with the glass backs of the iP4?

Others have already explained the car crashes but what about the iPhone 4. Does the glass on that unit break that much more often than on previous generations? Well we know from some research that it does but only slightly more than older phones. In the end the statistical difference isn't significant. All the negativity surrounding the various "issues" of the iPhone 4 are just net magnifications of idiots and people with agendas. Without a doubt the iPhone4 is the best cell phone I've owned so I take these comments or positions with a grain of thought.
post #25 of 48
Quote:
Originally Posted by wizard69 View Post

That does not mean that Appple will also engage in poor design. A molded carbon fiber back could actually lead to a significant improvement in the iPad, possible the AIR and especially the handheld devices.

I don't see how you'll get the same tolerances or thinness from CF over aluminum so that's two issues right there. Maybe for the back of an iMac or bottom of an Mac notebook, but not for chassis of an iPad.
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post #26 of 48
Quote:
Originally Posted by solipsism View Post

I don't see how you'll get the same tolerances or thinness from CF over aluminum so that's two issues right there. Maybe for the back of an iMac or bottom of an Mac notebook, but not for chassis of an iPad.

I've never taken an iPad apart so I really don't know how thick it is. That being said fiber products can be thin. It really depends upon factors such as the stiffness you are looking for and other things.

Now the thing here is that molding gives you many options when it comes to structure. Plus fiber gives you options in assembly. For example they could build a shell and then bond all the components in place permanently. Not so great if the battery needs to be replaced but very durable. In the end for Apple to maintain thinner is better new approaches to construction must be found. I can see a device where everything is so tightly integrated that the device would be as solid as a Slab of wood. The ultimate progression here would be to lay out the Copper traces right on the shell and build up the board layers from there.

If Apple is looking at these fiber techniques I have to think that long term it's goals are to strive for thiness through new techniques.
post #27 of 48
Quote:
Originally Posted by wizard69 View Post

I've never taken an iPad apart so I really don't know how thick it is. That being said fiber products can be thin. It really depends upon factors such as the stiffness you are looking for and other things.

Now the thing here is that molding gives you many options when it comes to structure. Plus fiber gives you options in assembly. For example they could build a shell and then bond all the components in place permanently. Not so great if the battery needs to be replaced but very durable. In the end for Apple to maintain thinner is better new approaches to construction must be found. I can see a device where everything is so tightly integrated that the device would be as solid as a Slab of wood. The ultimate progression here would be to lay out the Copper traces right on the shell and build up the board layers from there.

If Apple is looking at these fiber techniques I have to think that long term it's goals are to strive for thiness through new techniques.

I'll give you that, though I don't think I've seen any CF construction that can achieve such integrated and high-production results the potential certainly seems like it's there and probably why Apple has been and will continue to patent CF-based designs.
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post #28 of 48
Quote:
Originally Posted by cajun View Post

You can have any color you want, as long as it's either white or black.


Yup. We are given twice as many options as Henry Ford gave us
post #29 of 48
Quote:
Originally Posted by sranger View Post

This exact process has been done in the Automative, Marine, and aircraft business for the last 20 years.... I see no way it could be a valid patent, but the way the system is so screwed up now, they will probably get it...

I was thinking the same thing. The new 787 has a very similar process, might even be exactly the same. Not sure so I won't speak in absolutes, but this sounds very similar to what Boeing has been doing for 5 years now.
post #30 of 48
Quote:
Originally Posted by sranger View Post

This exact process has been done in the Automative, Marine, and aircraft business for the last 20 years.... I see no way it could be a valid patent, but the way the system is so screwed up now, they will probably get it...

I'm so sick of people claiming that whatever patent Apple comes up with is "invalid". This exact process has been used a million times before? Show me. Show me the previous patents, or just show me a manufacturer claiming to do the exact same thing. Post a single link to back up your claim.
post #31 of 48
Quote:
Originally Posted by wizard69 View Post

I've never taken an iPad apart so I really don't know how thick it is. That being said fiber products can be thin. It really depends upon factors such as the stiffness you are looking for and other things.

Now the thing here is that molding gives you many options when it comes to structure. Plus fiber gives you options in assembly. For example they could build a shell and then bond all the components in place permanently. Not so great if the battery needs to be replaced but very durable. In the end for Apple to maintain thinner is better new approaches to construction must be found. I can see a device where everything is so tightly integrated that the device would be as solid as a Slab of wood. The ultimate progression here would be to lay out the Copper traces right on the shell and build up the board layers from there.

If Apple is looking at these fiber techniques I have to think that long term it's goals are to strive for thiness through new techniques.

That would be amazing.. That's the kind of phone I've always wanted. Can you imagine how incredibly durable that would be? And it would be incredibly easy to make it water resistant, even water proof down to a few feet. You got me all excited thinking about the possibilities.
post #32 of 48
Quote:
Originally Posted by sranger View Post

This exact process has been done in the Automative, Marine, and aircraft business for the last 20 years.... I see no way it could be a valid patent, but the way the system is so screwed up now, they will probably get it...

No. Molding carbon fiber into shells has been used, yes, and coloring those shells has been used also. However, such shells are usually just painted to color them, which in the case of car, plane, and boat hulls, works great. What Apple has patented is the method of repeatedly dying each layer of a carbon fiber shell (which may have been done before, although I've never heard of it) and applying a finishing layer to the top (which is almost definitely new, as bonding different layers to carbon fiber is very difficult). Even if this entire process HAS been done before, it certainly hasn't been patented, which is really all that matters anyway.

If Apple filed a patent for this two years ago and were planninon ever actually using it, I thiink they already would have. As an engineer, I think it's safe to say that it would be difficult or impossible for Apple to make an iPad shell out of any kind of resin fiber composite that would be as strong as aluminum while staying as thin - carbon fiber is much stronger pound for pound than aluminum, but since aluminum is much denser, it can be made much thinner. Resins also have the nasty habit of cracking very easily...

Oh, and to the guy who said that this would let Apple's air shipping costs to drop: do you really think Apple's internal shipment costs are what drive their product designs??
post #33 of 48
Quote:
Originally Posted by Sambredeson View Post

No. Molding carbon fiber into shells has been used, yes, and coloring those shells has been used also. However, such shells are usually just painted to color them, which in the case of car, plane, and boat hulls, works great. What Apple has patented is the method of repeatedly dying each layer of a carbon fiber shell (which may have been done before, although I've never heard of it) and applying a finishing layer to the top (which is almost definitely new, as bonding different layers to carbon fiber is very difficult). Even if this entire process HAS been done before, it certainly hasn't been patented, which is really all that matters anyway.

If Apple filed a patent for this two years ago and were planninon ever actually using it, I thiink they already would have. As an engineer, I think it's safe to say that it would be difficult or impossible for Apple to make an iPad shell out of any kind of resin fiber composite that would be as strong as aluminum while staying as thin - carbon fiber is much stronger pound for pound than aluminum, but since aluminum is much denser, it can be made much thinner. Resins also have the nasty habit of cracking very easily...

Oh, and to the guy who said that this would let Apple's air shipping costs to drop: do you really think Apple's internal shipment costs are what drive their product designs??

My brother has done layer coloring, vacuuming (pulling) the color dye into the fibers itself, on two carbon-fiber boat hull prototypes in the past 18 months. It's not exactly a new process, but IIRC he had mentioned it's only been done in the past three or four years, at least in his industry. But then he does like to brag how 'cutting-edge' he is. It could be an older process than he's letting on.
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post #34 of 48
Quote:
Originally Posted by zanc View Post

Why is wallpapering a rough surface a new invention?

I don't know the answer, but ISTM that if it were easy to apply color to carbon fiber, somebody would be doing it already.

I'm glad to see Apple researching material science. It is a field which holds a lot of promise. I just hope that they don't monopolize their discoveries, so that there will be more benefit from their research than mere consumer electronics.
post #35 of 48
Quote:
Originally Posted by zanc View Post

Why is wallpapering a rough surface a new invention?

Yes, "wallpapering". And a phone call is "talking to someone over a distance", the electric bulb is a "candle" and a computer is an "adding machine"...
post #36 of 48
Quote:
Originally Posted by airnerd View Post

I was thinking the same thing. The new 787 has a very similar process, might even be exactly the same. Not sure so I won't speak in absolutes, but this sounds very similar to what Boeing has been doing for 5 years now.

The process described is *not* being used for the 787. Every piece of the 787 that arrives at the factory is black. They paint it just like they would any other aircraft they build.
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post #37 of 48
Quote:
Originally Posted by utahnguy View Post

I'm so sick of people claiming that whatever patent Apple comes up with is "invalid". This exact process has been used a million times before? Show me. Show me the previous patents, or just show me a manufacturer claiming to do the exact same thing. Post a single link to back up your claim.

How about here, way back in 1993?

http://patft.uspto.gov/netacgi/nph-P...RS=PN/5,201,97

But Apple became aware of that one too. Solution? Buy it, as they appear to have done in 2007(?).

BTW, this Apple Patent was "discovered" last Sept by Patently Apple
http://www.patentlyapple.com/patentl...-laminate.html
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post #38 of 48
Quote:
Originally Posted by utahnguy View Post

I'm so sick of people claiming that whatever patent Apple comes up with is "invalid". This exact process has been used a million times before? Show me. Show me the previous patents, or just show me a manufacturer claiming to do the exact same thing. Post a single link to back up your claim.

Prior art?

post #39 of 48
carbon fiber would be tight, so long as its lighter, but im not a fan, it always seems to weak. Hopefully they get it right.

Half aluminum half carbon fiber, the imac would look cool, instead of the black on the back, it would be carbon fiber. If its this enough, it could be used in insides and save some room too!
post #40 of 48
For example a lot of people here seem to be very biased against plastics yet are not aware of the extremely wide array of plastics available to companies these days. I've worked with Ultem resins that you couldn't dent with a ball peen hammer and required a injection temperature higher than the melting point of some zinc alloys. Here we are talking about resins that are injection molded in the normal sense.

Quote:
Originally Posted by utahnguy View Post

I'm so sick of people claiming that whatever patent Apple comes up with is "invalid". This exact process has been used a million times before? Show me. Show me the previous patents, or just show me a manufacturer claiming to do the exact same thing. Post a single link to back up your claim.

Well some things you can't show people. I don't know if you are old enough to remember Nerf balls but the technology behind them was never patented. Why? Pretty simply it becomes very easy for a company to steal your technology and if you are a small company defending patents becomes very very expensive.

Beyond that Apple hired the guy responsible for many of the original carbon fiber bikes. Again a lot of knowledge would come with a guy like that.

In any event I think you misunderstand what many object to. That is taking well understood technology and patenting it into a device where the use of that technology would be pretty obvious. For example the use of solar cells to power a Micrometer of the use of a hand crank generator to power a radio. In both cases the only thing that differs is how the power for the device is derived. Simply stated the solutions are obvious to anybody with even a modest education.

Quote:
Originally Posted by utahnguy View Post

That would be amazing.. That's the kind of phone I've always wanted. Can you imagine how incredibly durable that would be? And it would be incredibly easy to make it water resistant, even water proof down to a few feet. You got me all excited thinking about the possibilities.

Yep such a device could be very durable, but you still have the issue of glass for the display and the battery. Frankly battery technology sucks right now but there are interesting concepts available that might mature in the near future. As to water proof you still have the iPod connector and switches on the device, so I'm not to sure those will survive water without additional thought.

In any event yes you can build a very thing and durable device this way. One of the things i'm loving about the iPad is that it is fairly tough right now. You can toss it on the couch and not have to worry about damaging the hard drive or knocking the CD drive out of alignment. Frankly I still get a queasy feeling if I rough handle the iPad but then a smile comes over my face as I realize there is nothing truly fragile inside.

In any event look at a iPhone or Touch built is such a way that the device becomes a unitized mass of self reinforcing parts. A modest bit of protection for the glass should result in a very durable product. Unfortunately a product that can't easily be repaired but there are trade offs. Further Apple should be able to shrink the hardware required for the logic board considerably over the next couple of years, spread out on layers of the case back these parts would take up very little space. Move to some of the hybrid battery/super capacitor technology and we might have a power source that would be viable for a good ten years.

In a way as bleeding edge as Apples technology is, it is still currently mass producible technology.
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