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

Posted:
in General Discussion edited January 2014
Apple is exploring the use of carbon fiber to create reinforced housing for its mobile devices, with the iPad a potential candidate to utilize the strong-but-light material.



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



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



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



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



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







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



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







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



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



Some reports this year tied to rumors of a 7-inch iPad suggested Apple was looking at a smaller form factor because some users felt the current iPad is too heavy. However, Apple Chief Executive Steve Jobs quieted those rumors in October, when he said a 7-inch tablet is too small for most consumers.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 127
    Just don't twist it!
  • Reply 2 of 127
    So this is where we are now. "I have an idea! Let's build bicycles out of unicorn tears one day! They're lightweight and have magical properties!"



    "Quick, go get a patent!"



    This patent business has gone too far.
  • Reply 3 of 127
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by camroidv27 View Post


    Just don't twist it!



    .....



    Quote:

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



  • Reply 4 of 127
    MacProMacPro Posts: 18,367member
    So no LiquidMetal designs?
  • Reply 5 of 127
    There goes all the recycling gains of Aluminum and glass!
  • Reply 6 of 127
    melgrossmelgross Posts: 31,874member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by universeman View Post


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



    "Quick, go get a patent!"



    This patent business has gone too far.



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



    Whether this one is useful has yet to be proven. It will be somewhat lighter, but less rigid that the current back, despite the methods used, and will be bulkier.
  • Reply 7 of 127
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by AppleInsider View Post




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



    That's rather far in the future.
  • Reply 8 of 127
    melgrossmelgross Posts: 31,874member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by digitalclips View Post


    So no LiquidMetal designs?



    For something this size, it would be really expensive. When you look at the materials Liquidmetal needs, you can understand why it costs so much. Good for something very small, or something of high value, but not for run of the mill parts.
  • Reply 9 of 127
    801801 Posts: 271member
    I think that SJ's problem with 7" ipads will turn out to be a red herring.
  • Reply 10 of 127
    Am I the only one who dislikes carbon fiber and adores aluminum and glass?



    Btw, I really think the weight issue is more a battery tec issue than anything else...
  • Reply 11 of 127
    cnocbuicnocbui Posts: 3,613member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by digitalclips View Post


    So no LiquidMetal designs?



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



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



    Quote:
    Originally Posted by christopher126 View Post


    There goes all the recycling gains of Aluminum and glass!



    Carbon is not exactly in short supply. There are CF recovery systems if we start to run short.
  • Reply 12 of 127
    cnocbuicnocbui Posts: 3,613member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by myapplelove View Post


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



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



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



    Speaking of which, I wonder why Apple don't look at applying the unibody idea to magnesium instead of Aluminium. There is a glut at the moment and it's cheap. It's Lighter than Al and stiff. I know it is reactive as all hell, but maybe they could coat it with Titanium nitride or some other surface treatment to get round the problem.
  • Reply 13 of 127
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by cnocbui View Post


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



    We? Who's "we"?
  • Reply 14 of 127
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by cnocbui View Post


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



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



    Well if they don't make the batteries more effective -still based on lithium- or (something I forgot and which is equally important) the screen tech more efficient I don't think carbon fiber will save that much weight. I mean what's the difference between carbon fiber and aluminum in terms of the shell's weight? I would wager it's not more than 20-30 grams or somewhere along these lines, but if the screen and battery tech gets more efficient that could save something along the lines of 100-200 g.
  • Reply 15 of 127
    Can someone explain to me exactly how carbon fiber breaks. I understand the concept that if you put stress on an object made out of the material in the same direction as the seams then it will break. What I don't get is how my tripods (I am a t producer) made out of carbon fiber have never broken
  • Reply 16 of 127
    Don't leave your iPad on the roof of your car and then drive off... My father-in-law figured this rule out the hard way.



    His iPad was a crinkly sheet of metal and plastic by the end....
  • Reply 17 of 127
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by cnocbui View Post


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



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







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



    Boats, road cars, all formula 1 racing cars (which have tremendous impact strength) many different aircraft, both military and non military, and even other computer devices- Sony come to mind. the only thing they can be patenting is some specific manufacturing or design technique, not the use of the material. I would love them to use cfrp for this and the Macbook Air. It's light, won't dent like aluminium and won't dent or scratch other things. And when the device finally dies, it will make a lovely high tech tea tray.
  • Reply 18 of 127
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by myapplelove View Post


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



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



    I hate carbon fiber. Hope apple continues with their present materials.
  • Reply 19 of 127
    joe hsjoe hs Posts: 488member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by myapplelove View Post


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



    No, I feel exactly the same way.
  • Reply 20 of 127
    Carbon fiber has been used in kayaks for quite a long time now.



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



    The nanotube stuff is what might come next.
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