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Patent reveals Apple's process for mass producing Liquidmetal alloy

post #1 of 58
Thread Starter 
While Apple has yet to employ the unique amorphous alloy known as Liquidmetal in any of its products in a meaningful way, a newly granted patent details a way to mass produce the material in thin sheets.

Liquidmetal


The method was revealed in an invention made public this week by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, and discovered by MacDailyNews, that was originally filed by Crucible Intellectual Property, LLC. That's the name of a special-purpose subsidiary wholly owned by Liquidmetal, maker of an amorphous metal alloy with a unique atomic structure.

Apple currently has an exclusive agreement with Liquidmetal through early 2014 to use the material in consumer electronics, though to date it was only used briefly to build SIM ejector tools for the iPhone and iPad. It's been said that the alloy is too expensive to be mass produced for a main design, though small amounts can be used for operational parts such as hinges or brackets.

But the Liquidmetal patent, entitled "Bulk Amorphous Alloy Sheet Forming Processes," describes creating sheets of the alloy by using a float glass process. That's the same way that window glass is also produced in bulk.

Liquidmetal


The invention describes a molten sheet of bulk metallic glass traveling through a cooled conveyer. That sheet would then be cooled to form a "bulk solidifying amorphous alloy sheet."

By using the float glass process, a float plant could operate nonstop for between 10 and 15 years, the patent claims. This would allow it to make as much as 6,000 kilometers of bulk metallic glass per year sized up to 3 meters wide and up to 15 millimeters thick.

The names credited with the invention are split between employees of Apple and Liquidmetal. Christopher D. Prest and Joseph C. Poole work at apple, while Joseph Stevick, Theodore Andrew Waniuk and Quoc Tran Pham are all Liquidmetal employees.

The newly awarded patent was first filed with the USPTO by Liquidmetal's subsidiary in May of 2012.

Rumors have claimed for years that Apple will leverage its exclusive agreement with Liquidmetal and use the material in an upcoming product like a next-generation iPhone or even MacBook casing. But one of the inventors of the material said in a 2012 interview that he believes the utilization of Liquidmetal as a primary material for the frame of a device would be years away, allowing time for the technology to be matured and perfected.

Apple's exclusive arrangement with Liquidmetal was first discovered by AppleInsider in 2010. The agreement gives Apple "a perpetual, worldwide, fully-paid, exclusive license to commercial such intellectual property in the field of electronic products in exchange for a license fee."
post #2 of 58
Before everyone says it, there is no way that the invention of this process would lead to BGR's idea that the iPhone 5s will be made out of liquid metal.
post #3 of 58
post #4 of 58

Just thinking aloud...

 

The whole point of LM is the fact that it can be injection molded into shapes, instead of having to be milled.

 

The article talks about a process to make LM sheets, which is likely not the target shape, but perhaps could be used as raw material for such molds.

post #5 of 58

Thanks for the link. He repeatedly emphasized 'injection molding'. So I'm not seeing any significant barrier to the possibility of this being an alternative to a product machined from a block of aluminum in certain Apple products.
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post #6 of 58
Quote:
Originally Posted by KDarling View Post

Just thinking aloud...

The whole point of LM is the fact that it can be injection molded into shapes, instead of having to be milled.


The article talks about a process to make LM sheets, which is likely not the target shape, but perhaps could be used as raw material for such molds.

That's not the 'whole point' of LM at all.

Liquid metal's advantages stem from the fact that it's amorphous rather than crystalline. That gives it a number of very useful advantages:

- Less brittle
- Less prone to work hardening
- More resilient
- Less corrosion
- Stronger (due to lack of stress concentration sites).

All of those advantages apply to stamped parts every bit as much as machined parts. In fact, some of them ONLY apply to stamped parts (such as the work hardening advantage).
Edited by jragosta - 7/17/13 at 11:39am
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post #7 of 58
Quote:
Originally Posted by jragosta View Post

That's not the 'whole point' of LM at all.

Liquid metal's advantages stem from the fact that it's amorphous rather than crystalline. That gives it a number of very useful advantages:

- Less brittle
- Less prone to work hardening
- More resilient
- Less corrosion
- Stronger (due to lack of stress concentration sites).

All of those advantages apply to stamped parts every bit as much as machined parts. In fact, some of them ONLY apply to stamped parts (such as the work hardening advantage).

All you say about LM is true, however, the ability to injection mold is what makes it so exciting for Apple's potential use IMHO.
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post #8 of 58
The patent was filed by a company that is not Apple and three out of five authors are not employed by Apple, but it is reported as "Apple's process."

If you say so.
post #9 of 58
Quote:
Originally Posted by cnocbui View Post

The patent was filed by a company that is not Apple and three out of five authors are not employed by Apple, but it is reported as "Apple's process."

If you say so.

http://forums.macrumors.com/showthread.php?t=1611043
The agreement between Apple and Liquidmetal funneled the covered intellectual property through a subsidiary known as Crucible Intellectual Property, LLC, and Liquidmetal is required to submit all of its newly developed intellectual property to that subsidiary through at least February 2014.
post #10 of 58
Quote:
Originally Posted by digitalclips View Post

All you say about LM is true, however, the ability to injection mold is what makes it so exciting for Apple's potential use IMHO.

In this case, your HO is useless.

I've spent years manufacturing parts from metal. I know exactly what's important in a metal product and a stamped LM case would be every bit as valuable as an injection molded one. The process depends on the specifics of what you're trying to make. For an iPhone case, stamping is probably every bit as good as injection molding - and is far easier in many respects.
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post #11 of 58
Quote:
Originally Posted by digitalclips View Post

All you say about LM is true, however, the ability to injection mold is what makes it so exciting for Apple's potential use IMHO.

Let's hope that 'excitement' translates into something tangible soon: the stock is on the verge of disappearing into nothingness (although it's up to ¢14, from ¢5, today). 1hmm.gif

 

Given its current market cap, I am surprised that Apple -- heck, Tim Cook, with just his annual compensation -- hasn't purchased it outright.

post #12 of 58
Quote:
Originally Posted by jragosta View Post

That's not the 'whole point' of LM at all.

 

You're right.  It was a bad edit.  I originally had intended it to say, "It's one of the whole points of LM", but had to leave to pick up my daughter before I could finish.

 

(In a previous post today on MacRumors, I did talk about the other attributes of LM, such as resistance to corrosion, scratches, and bending.   Those are the reasons why Samsung used it since 2002 for phone parts, and even made an entire phone chassis out of LiquidMetal years before Apple bought up the rights.)

 

However, most people believe that for Apple, the main attraction is the injection molding, so that unusual shapes can be made (ones that stamping cannot do in one piece).

 

Are you saying that injection molding is NOT a major feature of LM?

post #13 of 58
Quote:
Originally Posted by anantksundaram View Post

Let's hope that 'excitement' translates into something tangible soon: the stock is on the verge of disappearing into nothingness (although it's up to ¢14, from ¢5, today). 1hmm.gif

Given its current market cap, I am surprised that Apple -- heck, Tim Cook, with just his annual compensation -- hasn't purchased it outright.

Yes, I wonder why Apple hasn't bought the company outright.
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post #14 of 58
Quote:
Originally Posted by anantksundaram View Post

(although it's up to ¢14, from ¢5, today). 1hmm.gif

And that's because of this article alone.

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Originally posted by Marvin

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post #15 of 58
Why does my phone keep asking me if I'm John Connors.
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post #16 of 58
Rights through 2014....Just long enough to perfect the processes/fab for the iwatch. Keeping the material away from competitors planning the same tech but having to use standard materials. If Apple has patented processes they don't need material rights as it would be years for others to catch up.
post #17 of 58
Quote:
Originally Posted by Relic View Post

Why does my phone keep asking me if I'm John Connors.

It's just confused. Tell it you're Sarah.

Originally posted by Marvin

Even if [the 5.5” iPhone] exists, it doesn’t deserve to.
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Originally posted by Marvin

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post #18 of 58
Introducing the iPhone T1000.
post #19 of 58
Quote:
Originally Posted by digitalclips View Post

Thanks for the link. He repeatedly emphasized 'injection molding'. So I'm not seeing any significant barrier to the possibility of this being an alternative to a product machined from a block of aluminum in certain Apple products.

Actually sheet stock would be very useful in existing Apple products. For example the sheet metal covers used on the notebook bottoms. Another example would be the LCD housing. They cold also stamp out covers for things like the Touch. I see this as a big deal that could lead to some interesting products from Apple.

The interesting thing here is that the process is rather old, as has been mentioned "float" glass has been made this way for years. It shows how even old technology can be patented if new ways to use it are found.
post #20 of 58
Quote:
Originally Posted by jragosta View Post

In this case, your HO is useless.

I've spent years manufacturing parts from metal. I know exactly what's important in a metal product and a stamped LM case would be every bit as valuable as an injection molded one. The process depends on the specifics of what you're trying to make. For an iPhone case, stamping is probably every bit as good as injection molding - and is far easier in many respects.

I think this is a huge step forward for iOS devices if and when the products using this sheet metal become available. Stamping and possibly drawing the metal could lead to some very interesting refinements in products. I actually see the big winners here being the iPads as we should end up with a lighter case that might even be stiffer. A possible bad side effect though might be more glued together components. The one nice thing about the CNC process is that screw bosses can be added anywhere.

As for glued together I suspect that in the future we won't have a choice anyways as the pieces of the iPad get potted to the back shell.
post #21 of 58
Quote:
Originally Posted by Relic View Post

Why does my phone keep asking me if I'm John Connors.

Wrong movie, wrong Terminator and wrong Connor. 3 strikes! Yoooooooooooooooou're out!

 

Oh and it's John Connor not Connors.

post #22 of 58

Another advantage of LM not mentioned here yet - RF transparency! Which from what I understand is possible due to the metal's amorphous structure. If correct that means iPhone's, iPad's, Macs etc...would no longer need plastic or glass RF windows for wireless anymore. Imagine a future iPhone with a completely seamless all metal body!


Edited by 1983 - 7/17/13 at 2:20pm
post #23 of 58
Quote:
Originally Posted by MikeJones View Post

Wrong movie, wrong Terminator and wrong Connor. 3 strikes! Yoooooooooooooooou're out!

Oh and it's John Connor not Connors.

Terminator 2, T-1000 (Liquid Metal, you know because of this threads topic) was sent to kill John Connor, not Sarah Connor, that was part 1. Saaaaafffffffeeeee
Edited by Relic - 7/17/13 at 2:37pm
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post #24 of 58
Quote:
Originally Posted by jragosta View Post


In this case, your HO is useless.

I've spent years manufacturing parts from metal. I know exactly what's important in a metal product and a stamped LM case would be every bit as valuable as an injection molded one. The process depends on the specifics of what you're trying to make. For an iPhone case, stamping is probably every bit as good as injection molding - and is far easier in many respects.

 

Y'know, if you had just left out that first sentence, that post would...

 

 

 

Never mind.

post #25 of 58
Quote:
Originally Posted by jragosta View Post

Yes, I wonder why Apple hasn't bought the company outright.

 

Would the present owners have to consent to a buyout? Maybe they don't want to let it go.

post #26 of 58
Quote:
Originally Posted by jragosta View Post


That's not the 'whole point' of LM at all.

Liquid metal's advantages stem from the fact that it's amorphous rather than crystalline. That gives it a number of very useful advantages:

- Less brittle
- Less prone to work hardening
- More resilient
- Less corrosion
- Stronger (due to lack of stress concentration sites).

All of those advantages apply to stamped parts every bit as much as machined parts. In fact, some of them ONLY apply to stamped parts (such as the work hardening advantage).

 

Technically yeah, but you left out the fact that one of it's main features is the fact that it doesn't shrink when it cools, so forging processes are definitely favoured in almost all cases.  

 

Also, the stuff is so hard, that to make a sheet or block of it and then mill out the shape as they currently do with aluminium would be a kind of dumbass and much more expensive thing to do.  They would need harder bits, and the bits wouldn't last as long.  I don't think you'll ever see them making blocks of it and milling it like aluminium.  

post #27 of 58

Hmmm, Apple <---- Liquid Metal ------> Swatch (Omega).

 

Will we see an Apple Omega cobranded iWatch?

 

Omega has already been using liquid metal in some of their Seamaster range of watches.

 


Edited by hill60 - 7/17/13 at 3:07pm
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post #28 of 58
Quote:
Originally Posted by jragosta View Post


Yes, I wonder why Apple hasn't bought the company outright.

 

I'm guessing here but it may be because the technology still needed a lot of R&D.   If Apple bought the company then it may have been too focused on developing for their own use which may only be a tiny fraction of the larger market for LM.  Apple would be faced with going into another business that's totally outside of its core, or remaining a smaller and more focused company that has exclusive use of the technology in the businesses it has.  Meanwhile additional opportunities for other industries can fund R&D of LM overall.

post #29 of 58
Quote:
Originally Posted by Relic View Post


Terminator 2, T-1000 (Liquid Metal, you know because of this threads topic) was sent to kill John Connor, not Sarah Connor, that was part 1. Saaaaafffffffeeeee


I was disappointed that he never referenced his movies when he ran for governor. It would have been funny if he said "vote for me if you want to live" or "get to the polls".

post #30 of 58
Quote:
Originally Posted by 1983 View Post

Another advantage of LM not mentioned here yet - RF transparency! Which from what I understand is possible due to the metal's amorphous structure. If correct that means iPhone's, iPad's, Macs etc...would no longer need plastic or glass RF windows for wireless anymore. Imagine a future iPhone with a completely seamless all metal body!

That hasn't been publicly verified. There are some comments in the tech press that imply that there's radio transparency, but I haven't seen any official comments supporting that claim. Frankly, I doubt it.
Quote:
Originally Posted by Gazoobee View Post

Technically yeah, but you left out the fact that one of it's main features is the fact that it doesn't shrink when it cools, so forging processes are definitely favoured in almost all cases.  

The choice of casting vs drawing vs stamping vs machining depends on a very large number of factors. The biggest one affecting the choice of process is the shape of the part. If a given shape is more suitable for drawing, then drawing should be used - even if low shrinkage rates are of no benefit there.

Consider, for example, the iPod classic back. It's a thin sheet of material with deep draw sides. That shape would not be particularly suitable for injection molding - whether the material shrinks or not. OTOH, consider the antennas that form the sides of the iPhone 4/5. Those shapes would work well with injection molding.

Any large, flat piece (like the back of an iPad) would make more sense for drawing or stamping.
Quote:
Originally Posted by Gazoobee View Post

Also, the stuff is so hard, that to make a sheet or block of it and then mill out the shape as they currently do with aluminium would be a kind of dumbass and much more expensive thing to do.  They would need harder bits, and the bits wouldn't last as long.  I don't think you'll ever see them making blocks of it and milling it like aluminium.  

Maybe, maybe not. While it's harder than a crystalline Ti/Al alloy, that doesn't preclude machining. Existing bits are still much, much harder than even Liquidmetal materials. However, as stated above, i don't think you'll see it, either - but for different reasons.
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post #31 of 58
IGZO. Because no thread is complete without mentioning IGZO.

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post #32 of 58
Quote:
Originally Posted by Suddenly Newton View Post

IGZO. Because no thread is complete without mentioning IGZO.

Should have asked for "IGZO" as your user title. 1tongue.gif

Originally posted by Marvin

Even if [the 5.5” iPhone] exists, it doesn’t deserve to.
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Originally posted by Marvin

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post #33 of 58
Duplicate post
Edited by Shogun - 7/17/13 at 5:21pm
post #34 of 58
Quote:
Originally Posted by 1983 View Post

Another advantage of LM not mentioned here yet - RF transparency! Which from what I understand is possible due to the metal's amorphous structure. If correct that means iPhone's, iPad's, Macs etc...would no longer need plastic or glass RF windows for wireless anymore. Imagine a future iPhone with a completely seamless all metal body!

RF transmission and antennas in particular are a strange beast. How well such a material would allow RF to pass through is probably dependent on many variables. It would be very nice though to be able to seal up an iPad completely to the point of being water resistant.
post #35 of 58
Remember the MacBook Pro Liquid Metal rumors a while back? I sure do.

When the Mac Pro was shown in the darker (liquid metal) color, I was wishfully thinking that those rumors might finally come to fruition.

Flat / thin sheets sounds like the perfect form factor for exterior/casing on a MBP.
post #36 of 58
Quote:
Originally Posted by Shogun View Post

What I have yet to hear is of what use a thin sheet of lqmt will be to apple... I thought the point was the metal can be injection molded into complex shapes. So what do you do with a sheet of it?

Bend it, draw it, press it, crimp it. Sheet metal can be a very productive way to do mass production especially for things like the iPad which is really a silly device to CNC machine an enclosure for. Now the question we need to ask would the sheet metal be amendable to such forming - a question I can't answer honestly.

If you have never been in a manufacturing plant with high speed progressive dies it is shocking just how fast these machines can stamp out parts. in the time it takes Apple to machine one iPad back, a good press could stamp out a hundred or more backs. The new backs would require different assembly techniques but that would have happened anyways.

The only real question is how much trouble they would have maintaining appearance with a stamping process.
post #37 of 58

"Apple currently has an exclusive agreement with Liquidmetal through early 2014"

 

"The agreement gives Apple "a perpetual, worldwide, fully-paid, exclusive license to commercial such intellectual property in the field of electronic products in exchange for a license fee.""

 

Is it 2014 or perpetual?

post #38 of 58
Quote:
Originally Posted by hmm View Post


I was disappointed that he never referenced his movies when he ran for governor. It would have been funny if he said "vote for me if you want to live" or "get to the polls".

Note he also hasn't (yet) said, "I'll be back." Has his wife?
post #39 of 58
Quote:
Originally Posted by 1983 View Post

Another advantage of LM not mentioned here yet - RF transparency! 

 

No, it's not radio transparent.  

 

The internet myth that it was, got started back in 2010 when one of the LM engineers commented that perhaps Apple could QUOTE "blend an alloy that was optimized for receiving signals." UNQUOTE ... and use it as the antenna.

 

A lot of people apparently misunderstood the statement, and thought he meant it was RF transparent, when actually he was stating quite the opposite.

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by malax View Post

"Apple currently has an exclusive agreement with Liquidmetal through early 2014"

 

"The agreement gives Apple "a perpetual, worldwide, fully-paid, exclusive license to commercial such intellectual property in the field of electronic products in exchange for a license fee.""

 

Is it 2014 or perpetual?

 

  • It is a perpetual exclusive on
  • using LiquidMetal corporation IP created through 2014
  • in a consumer electronic item.

 

In other words, only Apple can ever make a CE device using what LM invents through 2014.

 

Inventions coming after 2014 will be available to anyone (assuming they don't rely on previous IP, presumably).  However, Apple has already paid to extend the IP time limit once, so they might do it again.


Edited by KDarling - 7/17/13 at 7:09pm
post #40 of 58
Quote:
Originally Posted by KDarling View Post

 

You're right.  It was a bad edit.  I originally had intended it to say, "It's one of the whole points of LM", but had to leave to pick up my daughter before I could finish.

 

(In a previous post today on MacRumors, I did talk about the other attributes of LM, such as resistance to corrosion, scratches, and bending.   Those are the reasons why Samsung used it since 2002 for phone parts, and even made an entire phone chassis out of LiquidMetal years before Apple bought up the rights.)

 

However, most people believe that for Apple, the main attraction is the injection molding, so that unusual shapes can be made (ones that stamping cannot do in one piece).

 

Are you saying that injection molding is NOT a major feature of LM?

 

...And all this time I thought the major feature was to have the phone bounce back up into your hand if you dropped it.

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