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

post #1 of 36
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Rather than use unreliable adhesives, Apple is exploring new ways to permanently bond plastic and metal parts to build better portable devices like the iPhone.

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

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

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

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




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

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

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

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




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

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

[ View article on AppleInsider ]
post #2 of 36
In order to ensure a tight bond between the metal and plastic, there would need to be areas of the metal piece that are sufficiently deep and not perfectly perpendicular to the connection between the metal and plastic. Just making the metal surface rough won't be enough for a tight bond.
post #3 of 36
I think this patent exposes one of the problems with the patent system. Make the application narrow enough and there won't be any prior art. This concept is obvious and widely used in a less narrow applications.
post #4 of 36
Having reviewed the application and having some experience with ultrasonic bonding, I don't see any way this should be patentable. It's basically well-known ultrasonic bonding technology.
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Gatorguy 5/31/13
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post #5 of 36
i have a sabertooth 990fx MB (yes it isn't apple, or related to apple) , and it has "ceramix heatsink tech" another word for irregular surface for more heat dissipation... thus if apple added this kind of coating to the inside or the surface of the object... it would work...

can you say "apple care required"... or i wonder does this make it easier to fix a broken part, or harder?
post #6 of 36
Quote:
Originally Posted by jragosta View Post

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

prior art!... so did you ever think that if you had a rough surface it would be easier to weld this part... or did you just do the job... and move on?
post #7 of 36
It'll just make it harder to replace some parts.
post #8 of 36
Quote:
Originally Posted by haar View Post

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

It is well known in ultrasonic bonding that a rougher surface makes the bond stronger.
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post #9 of 36
My iPhone rattles when I set it down on a hard surface, it has done this from the day I purchased the phone. I believe it to be something with the camera lens not being secure in the device, this has really annoyed me since I bought the iPhone, an iPhone 4. It sort of sounds like some part is loose in there. Sort of makes me feel this is a cheaply built, mass-produced device (which is is), not much quality control. Oh well. Still works like it should.
post #10 of 36
Quote:
Originally Posted by WardC View Post

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

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

As for quality control, what's your evidence that there's not much quality control? A single phone that rattles? That's silly. The iPhone is a very high quality device with customer satisfaction that's off the charts.
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post #11 of 36
A great feature of many Apple products is that the aluminum housing is easy to recycle; only weak adhesives are used, for example to attach the battery to the iPad 2 back, and can be easily ripped out.

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

If responsibly handled, this adds to recycling cost, making it less viable, and goes against EPEAT Design for End of Life rules 4.3.1.7 and 4.3.2.1.
post #12 of 36
Quote:
Originally Posted by WardC View Post

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

I hear this very faint "rattling", but if you hold the volume and power buttons while shaking your device it stops. It's been a non issue for me.
post #13 of 36
Quote:
Originally Posted by jmgregory1 View Post

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

Quote:
Originally Posted by tjwal View Post

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

Quote:
Originally Posted by jragosta View Post

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

Quote:
Originally Posted by jragosta View Post

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

I don't think you people read the article.

Ultrasonic bonding in this context is performed by roughening the metal surface before melting the plastic onto it. This invention is basically a new way of roughening the metal (so that it has undercuts etc.) and is therefore eminently patentable. It's a process revision of the current technique creating a new type of textured surface and probably using new techniques to achieve it.
post #14 of 36
Quote:
Originally Posted by marokero View Post

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

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

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

Edit: OK I just checked it out, and holding down the volume buttons and the power button doesn't fix the issue. It makes this rattle sound when I tap the backplane of the device near the camera, a clear rattle sound like a loose part in the device. Again, it's a nearly 2 year old iPhone 4, but it's been making the sound since I got the device.
post #15 of 36
The need to connect parts together is a huge constraint on the final form, especially for designers at Apple who obsess about creating increasingly compact devices with no apparent fasteners.

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

Anyway, Apple's proposal makes me wonder if the air trapped in the cavities would resist the intrusion of semi liquid plastic ...
post #16 of 36
Quote:
Originally Posted by Prof. Peabody View Post

I don't think you people read the article.

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

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

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

There's absolutely nothing in the application that isn't already well known to anyone who practices ultrasonic welding.
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post #17 of 36
Quote:
Originally Posted by apersona View Post

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

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

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

There are simple ways around that. First, if you use even a modest amount of pressure, the air in the cavities is compressed enough that it doesn't take up much space - so the problem is minimized. If you need to remove the air, it's not that hard to do the ultrasonic welding under vacuum.
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post #18 of 36
Quote:
Originally Posted by apersona View Post

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

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

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

I would assume that they have developed some method of creating a specific texture that might reduce the amount of air trapped. The patent diagram shows a random texture which may not be an accurate depiction of what they have created. My brother worked at HP years ago and once showed me a traction wheel from a plotter. It was a metal ring that had what appeared to be a matte surface. In reality it was a carefully etched surface made of up microscopic spikes that gripped the paper in the plotter without damaging it but allowing precise movement control. I wish I could have seen an EM photo of that surface.
post #19 of 36
[QUOTE=AppleInsider;2072790]Rather than use unreliable adhesives, Apple is exploring new ways to permanently bond plastic and metal parts to build better portable devices like the iPhone.


Is this the beginning of Apple leveraging the patent rights they purchased a while back from Liquidmetal Technologies?
post #20 of 36
Seems to me I've seen this method used somewhere before....Let the patent battles begin!
post #21 of 36
Quote:
Originally Posted by WelshDog View Post

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

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

The fact that Apple says that even untreated surfaces can work as well as listing virtually every surface roughening technology in common use says that it's a generic application.
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post #22 of 36
Quote:
Originally Posted by jragosta View Post

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

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

There's absolutely nothing in the application that isn't already well known to anyone who practices ultrasonic welding.

This thread has caused my opinion of you to change and thus my attitude towards you.
post #23 of 36
I know nothing about bonding, but I did note the article was written in trolling form yet again. It starts with "Rather than use unreliable adhesives" implying everyone else is doing it incorrectly. Objectivity seems to be missing quite often.
post #24 of 36
Quote:
Originally Posted by hmm View Post

I know nothing about bonding, but I did note the article was written in trolling form yet again. It starts with "Rather than use unreliable adhesives" implying everyone else is doing it incorrectly. Objectivity seems to be missing quite often.

Read some patents. That's standard patent language.
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post #25 of 36
Quote:
Originally Posted by hmm View Post

I know nothing about bonding, but I did note the article was written in trolling form yet again. It starts with "Rather than use unreliable adhesives" implying everyone else is doing it incorrectly. Objectivity seems to be missing quite often.

How would you word it to emphasize a technique that you found provided a better bond?

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post #26 of 36
Quote:
Originally Posted by Realistic View Post

How would you word it to emphasize a technique that you found provided a better bond?

Why do you assume that the bond is better?

Maybe it is a "good enough" bond, but cheaper?
post #27 of 36
Quote:
Originally Posted by I am a Zither Zather Zuzz View Post

Why do you assume that the bond is better?

Maybe it is a "good enough" bond, but cheaper?

Maybe because the patent application said so?
"By specially treating the metal surface or surfaces to which ultrasonic bonding will take place, a stronger mechanical interlocking and bond with the plastic part or parts to be attached can be realized."

Perhaps you should read things before commenting on them.
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post #28 of 36
As for the slight tink sound in the iPhone; might it be the vibrator motor? In which case it would have to be loose to function.
post #29 of 36
Haven't we moved beyond metal + plastic to metal + glass?

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post #30 of 36
Quote:
Originally Posted by tjwal View Post

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

The dovetail joint comes to mind. Wait! Is that patented yet? I gotta go!.....
post #31 of 36
I worried about this same problem when I got my iPhone 4S. But after checking Apple's Support Communities, I learned that the rattling is an inherent aspect of the camera. If I remember correctly, users were saying that it is a free-floating lens element.

One way to check is to turn on the camera and focus on something close. If the rattling stops, then it is the lens element. This was the case for my iPhone. Since then, it no longer bothers me.


Quote:
Originally Posted by WardC View Post

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

Quote:
Originally Posted by jragosta View Post

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

As for quality control, what's your evidence that there's not much quality control? A single phone that rattles? That's silly. The iPhone is a very high quality device with customer satisfaction that's off the charts.

Quote:
Originally Posted by marokero View Post

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

Quote:
Originally Posted by WardC View Post

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

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

Edit: OK I just checked it out, and holding down the volume buttons and the power button doesn't fix the issue. It makes this rattle sound when I tap the backplane of the device near the camera, a clear rattle sound like a loose part in the device. Again, it's a nearly 2 year old iPhone 4, but it's been making the sound since I got the device.
post #32 of 36
Quote:
Originally Posted by jragosta View Post

Maybe because the patent application said so?
"By specially treating the metal surface or surfaces to which ultrasonic bonding will take place, a stronger mechanical interlocking and bond with the plastic part or parts to be attached can be realized."

Perhaps you should read things before commenting on them.

Fair enough.
post #33 of 36
Quote:
Originally Posted by Suddenly Newton View Post

Haven't we moved beyond metal + plastic to metal + glass?

This patent application doesn't have to be something that's currently in use. They may not ever use it, but certainly may not be using it now.

But ultrasonic welding won't easily weld glass to metal. For that to work, you'd have to have temperatures so high that the device would be deformed.
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post #34 of 36
This is common practice with all sorts of bonding methods. Beyond that I can't see such abounding method as ever being teliable.
post #35 of 36
Quote:
Originally Posted by Alonso Perez View Post

A great feature of many Apple products is that the aluminum housing is easy to recycle; only weak adhesives are used, for example to attach the battery to the iPad 2 back, and can be easily ripped out.

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

If responsibly handled, this adds to recycling cost, making it less viable, and goes against EPEAT Design for End of Life rules 4.3.1.7 and 4.3.2.1.

Yeah my reaction too was that this technique should not be employed in articles that are meant to be recyclable. More useful would be a method of securely but reversibly bonding disparate materials. Something perhaps like gecko adhesion, though that is obviously being patented elsewhere. Anyway I'd imagine the field is still pretty wide open, as the current technology I believe relies on a separate substance. Ideally, joining surfaces would simply be finished in such a way that they would bond upon the presure of contact, and be separable under a predetermined force.
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post #36 of 36
Has anyone considered how using an amorphous metal alloy might make this welding technique more or less effective?
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