Apple's aluminum strategy aids shift to greener products - report

Posted:
in General Discussion edited January 2014
Even as rumors have emerged that the next iPhone could transition back to an aluminum casing, Apple's move toward highly recyclable aluminum cases for its products has contributed significantly to the company's efforts to achieve environmental sustainability.



In 2007, Apple CEO Steve Jobs penned an open letter highlighting changes to the company's environmental policy in hopes of achieving "a greener Apple." In the letter, Jobs specifically noted the Cupertino, Calif., Mac maker's adoption of aircraft-grade aluminum in order to improve recycling uptake.



At the time, Jobs forecast that Apple would increase recycling effectiveness, which is measured by calculating the total weight recycled in a given year divided by the total weight sold seven years prior, from 9.5 percent in 2006 to 28 percent in 2010. The company has been remarkably successful in its efforts, achieving a 66.4 percent recycle rate in 2009 and setting a goal of 70 percent for 2010-2015.



Recycled aluminum requires just 5 percent of the energy needed to produce primary aluminum, while emitting 95 percent less green house gases. According to Klaus Kleinfeld, CEO of aluminum giant Alcoa, the metal is "infinitely recyclable," with 75 percent of all aluminum produced since 1888 still in active use today.







Alcoa sees rapid growth of aluminum in the electronics market, as evidenced by its recent acquisition of a minority stake in Electronics Recycling International, the largest recycler of electronics waste in the U.S. "Consumer electronics represents a fast-growing market for aluminum, with the aluminum content in laptops alone expected to increase 30 per cent by 2013 from a 2010 baseline," said Chief Sustainability Officer Kevin Anton.



Apple popularized aluminum laptops in 2003 with the introduction of the aluminum PowerBook G4. In 2008, the company outdid itself by implementing a custom-developed aluminum unibody enclosure for the release of the MacBook Air and later the MacBook and MacBook Pro. The unibody manufacturing process utilizes "computer numerical control" machines to carve a chassis out of one block of aluminum.







Aluminum has made its way to Apple's post-PC products as well, within an appearance in various versions of the iPod, iPhone and iPad. Apple indicated in its recent Environmental Report for the iPad 2 that the device's aluminum casing is "highly desired by recyclers." Although, interestingly enough, the second-generation tablet requires slightly more aluminum (135 g compared to 125 g) than its predecessor, despite being 15 percent lighter.







Some reports have speculated that the concurrent release of the white model of the iPad 2 was made possible because its aluminum back does not suffer from the same light leakage issues as the iPhone 4's glass panels. The white iPhone 4 was announced last year, but was delayed by Apple until this spring.



Given Apple's frequent use of aluminum in its products, speculation has emerged that the next-generation iPhone will feature an aluminum back. The original iPhone used an aluminum back, but was phased out in favor of a plastic back on the iPhone 3G and iPhone 3GS.



The iPhone 4 currently sports front and rear glass panels and a stainless steel outer frame that doubles as an antenna. Apple's decision to use the frame as an antenna drew criticism last summer after some users reported dropped calls and reduced signal bars when gripping the phone.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 54
    Being greener is just a bonus to the fact that it is the best looking, best built laptop ever. The engineering and manufacturing is top notch compared to all the others which seen like they are designed and slapped together just to get them out the door in time.
  • Reply 2 of 54
    jonamacjonamac Posts: 384member
    It's highly recyclable, strong, beautiful and lovely to the touch. Why on earth is Apple the only company using it as a primary material in their computer chassis? I wouldn't buy a plastic computer now. I love waking up in the morning and feeling the cold metal of my MacBook Pro when I start work. It's a huge step forward in laptop quality.



    The factoid about 75% of all aluminium produced since 1888 still being in use is astonishing.
  • Reply 3 of 54
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Jonamac View Post


    It's highly recyclable, strong, beautiful and lovely to the touch. Why on earth is Apple the only company using it as a primary material in their computer chassis? I wouldn't buy a plastic computer now. I love waking up in the morning and feeling the cold metal of my MacBook Pro when I start work. It's a huge step forward in laptop quality.



    The factoid about 75% of all aluminium produced since 1888 still being in use is astonishing.



    Apple has had to invent machining techniques to pull off the unibody design. Other companies are incapable of doing similar stuff.
  • Reply 4 of 54
    sockrolidsockrolid Posts: 2,788member
    I was surprised that the latest Apple TV has a plastic case. Maybe that's just an interim design, before Apple either goes to an aluminum enclosure or embeds the circuit board into OEM HDTV sets.



    So maybe Apple's purchase of Liquid Metal was for developing techniques for "injection molding" aluminum the way Liquid Metal does it with their platinum-based alloy. As slick and scratch-resistant as the Liquid Metal alloy is, the material cost may be too high for use in enclosures as big as MacBook Pros, Airs, iMacs, Mac Pros and the like. And if it's hard to recycle for whatever reason, that too could be a deal killer. (Maybe Apple could offer a discount to owners who trade in their old Apple products for recycling...)



    Why "injection molding" (quoted because the Liquid Metal process is far more advanced than just injection molding)? Because as difficult as the process is to set up, it must take far less time than grinding out all that aluminum from a solid billet. Instead of forming the billet and machining 80% of it out, you could just form the enclosure. Boom.
  • Reply 5 of 54
    jb510jb510 Posts: 124member
    While I'm certainly PRO-recycling and appreciate products that are designed to be recyclable, I don't get why people get SO excited about the _recyclability_ of what should be highly durable products. I loved my aluminum MBP and my brand spanking new unibody MBP because they are rock solid _durable_ laptops...



    In fact I'm willing to bet that the vast majority of MacBook buyers throw far more aluminium in the non-recyclable trash bin every year than there is in one MacBook...



    I'm just saying that for ME, even being very pro-recycling, I don't think much about my laptops end of life and care more durability and reduction of toxins.
  • Reply 6 of 54
    nagrommenagromme Posts: 2,834member
    True, Macs are very green from the usable-life perspective too!
  • Reply 7 of 54
    ihxoihxo Posts: 562member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Jonamac View Post


    It's highly recyclable, strong, beautiful and lovely to the touch. Why on earth is Apple the only company using it as a primary material in their computer chassis? I wouldn't buy a plastic computer now. I love waking up in the morning and feeling the cold metal of my MacBook Pro when I start work. It's a huge step forward in laptop quality.



    The factoid about 75% of all aluminium produced since 1888 still being in use is astonishing.



    Apple invested a lot in those machines for cutting and crafting those aluminum blocks.



    Other companies simply don't want to spend that much on things they can't brag on the spec sheet.
  • Reply 8 of 54
    ochymingochyming Posts: 474member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by ihxo View Post


    Apple invested a lot in those machines for cutting and crafting those aluminum blocks.



    Other companies simply don't want to spend that much on things they can't brag on the spec sheet.



    3D nonsense is more important these days for pseudo tech's journalists.
  • Reply 9 of 54
    Now all we need are recyclable batteries... Maybe Hydrogen Fuel Cells as described on that patent not so long ago?
  • Reply 10 of 54
    cgc0202cgc0202 Posts: 624member
    Contrary to popular myth, if the correct materials are chosen, many other materials can be recycled other than aluminum -- even glass, plastic.Composite materials may just be more difficult to recycle but it can be done.



    The main advantage of aluminum or glass in recycling is that the technologies have been there for both materials The thing with plastic is that the cost of recycling may be even more costly than manufacture from fresh materials. This is even more true for composite plastics. However, once you factor in the cost of not recycling plastics on the environment, the economics of recycling plastics could be justified.



    The other advantages of aluminum, aside from is elegance is that it could serve as a heat sink also.



    Another poster mentioned about the manufacture of the unibody aluminum casing. When Steve Jobs first described how it was done, I was a bit surprised because of the waste created from the machining that hss then be recycled. Also very time consuming.



    The materials engineers who might be involved in the process may enlighten us, but to my knowledge most stuff can be more easiy and precisely prepared by stamped manufacture, including the tiniest materials used in precision equipment. Even the "liguid metal" materials are likely stamped manufactured.



    CGC
  • Reply 11 of 54
    tbelltbell Posts: 3,146member
    What waste? Any material left over from the cutting can be reused. Aluminum has a low melting temperature for metal and can fairly easily be melted back into blocks. The reason Apple went to a Unibody design is because Apple can make the aluminum significantly thinner while offering superior stability in terms of reducing chassis flexibility.



    When you use the stamp process there are joints where the pieces come together. That is inherently less stable especially the thinner you go. Stamping because of the necessary seams allows the body to flex more, which in turn puts stress on the internal parts. Apple used to use the stamp method, but the chassis had to be thicker to disallow flexibility. Also, there is lots of left over material with the stamp process as well. Maybe more because you have to use thicker material. So any cut outs are going to be larger.



    Many people who had the old iBook G4s know about the perils of flexibility in the chassis. The cases flexed to much, causing the logic boards to flex as well. Over a relatively short period of time, the graphic chip became dislodged from the board causing the screen to go black. Apple had to service for free a lot of iBooks. It had to replace the logic board in mine three times over a three year period of time. There are tons of forums complaining of the issue. Apple never publicly acknowledged the underlying cause of the problem other then to extend the warranty period significantly for computers effected with the graphic chip issue. That was what the issue was though. Apple eventually made the plastic Macbooks Unibody as well.



    Although those cases were made out of plastic using two pieces of stamped plastic, the same principles apply for the aluminum. Flexing in the chassis is bad. Apple I suspect has learned its lesson about going to thin without preserving stability.







    Quote:
    Originally Posted by cgc0202 View Post


    Another poster mentioned about the manufacture of the unibody aluminum casing. When Steve Jobs first described how it was done, I was a bit surprised because of the waste created from the machining that hss then be recycled. Also very time consuming.



    The materials engineers who might be involved in the process may enlighten us, but to my knowledge most stuff can be more easiy and precisely prepared by stamped manufacture, including the tiniest materials used in precision equipment. Even the "liguid metal" materials are likely stamped manufactured.



    CGC



  • Reply 12 of 54
    plovellplovell Posts: 800member
    No need for aluminum for Apple TV as it's not portable. Plastic is probably better because you don't have the issues with WiFi signal getting through the case.



    You could argue, of course, that Apple didn't need aluminum in the current Mini. That's true and I'd agree with you. There's a *bit* more reason for it but it could have gone either way. And they did have to do special stuff for the antenna.
  • Reply 13 of 54
    asciiascii Posts: 5,941member
    "Apple's aluminum strategy aids shift to greener products"



    Really? IMO Apple's increased use of aluminium results in more silvery-grey products.
  • Reply 14 of 54
    cgc0202cgc0202 Posts: 624member
    Recycling itself use energy, manpower and other resources. If I am not mistaken, almost 40% or thereabouts is what they said is machined out -- that is a lot of "materials to be recycled.



    Contrary to the impression presented, the clamshell notebook is not really a unibody. The most likely to give way first is the hinges between the body and the cover screen; but Apple solved that, as it has done with the swivel in some models of the iMac.



    I am not a mechanical design engineer but you should see how complex some of the designs of some precision instruments used in research and biomedical science -- some of them swivel in all directions. Just imagine if the "Gamma-knife" used by neurosurgeons move just a few millimeters than specified during a brain surgery, and the gamma-rays end up elsewhere or deeper in the brain. The microscope is another example, but go beyond the simple microscoped and think of electron microscopes, scan electron microscoped (SEM) and tunneling electron microscopes (TEM), and other imaging instruments used in research and biomedicine.



    There are some parts that require precision machining to finish but the bulk of the components of these fine-precision instruments are stamped manufactured.



    Many of these research and biomedicine precision instruments are built on multiple hinges and joints, some of them to be literally have 360-degree motion in the x-y-z planes. The manufacture process of the body of the Macbook and similar unibody products would be piece of cake to do compared to those precision instruments.





    When they showed the video of the machining of the "unibody" of the notebook can be machine stamped and smoothened to perfection. One main advantage of such a stamp process is less waste of the fresh aluminun or whatever metal is used. In fact, aluminum should even be easy to stamp processing because of its lower temperature compared to some metals.



    And they are meant to last like forever. Not 2-5 years like the consumer computers.



    By the way, for stamped materials, they may do some precision machining to deal with the issue that you referred to, but only in those areas, e.g, hinges and joints or to created those side ports and holes or some other cavities that may be difficult to do with dye mold.



    Just try to step back a bit, instead of rationalizing Apple's process. A hybrid of the stamp process and machining of those that cannot be stamped would have produced less wasted "fresh aluminum".



    Apple is not infallible, if you just try to step back. The issue with the white iPhone, even the Antenna design suggest that not everything is perfect alll the time.





    Quote:
    Originally Posted by TBell View Post


    What waste? Any material left over from the cutting can be reused. Aluminum has a low melting temperature for metal and can fairly easily be melted back into blocks. The reason Apple went to a Unibody design is because Apple can make the aluminum significantly thinner while offering superior stability in terms of reducing chassis flexibility.



    When you use the stamp process there are joints where the pieces come together. That is inherently less stable especially the thinner you go. Stamping because of the necessary seams allows the body to flex more, which in turn puts stress on the internal parts. Apple used to use the stamp method, but the chassis had to be thicker to disallow flexibility. Also, there is lots of left over material with the stamp process as well. Maybe more because you have to use thicker material. So any cut outs are going to be larger.



    Many people who had the old iBook G4s know about the perils of flexibility in the chassis. The cases flexed to much, causing the logic boards to flex as well. Over a relatively short period of time, the graphic chip became dislodged from the board causing the screen to go black. Apple had to service for free a lot of iBooks. It had to replace the logic board in mine three times over a three year period of time. There are tons of forums complaining of the issue. Apple never publicly acknowledged the underlying cause of the problem other then to extend the warranty period significantly for computers effected with the graphic chip issue. That was what the issue was though. Apple eventually made the plastic Macbooks Unibody as well.



    Although those cases were made out of plastic using two pieces of stamped plastic, the same principles apply for the aluminum. Flexing in the chassis is bad. Apple I suspect has learned its lesson about going to thin without preserving stability.





    Quote:
    Originally Posted by ascii View Post


    "Apple's aluminum strategy aids shift to greener products"



    Really? IMO Apple's increased use of aluminium results in more silvery-grey products.



    Just curious, what do you do personally to minimize pollution and energy usage?



    For someone who mainly post to denigrate Apple, you spend so much time doing so.



    Have you persuaded anyone to come to agree with your perspective?



    CGC
  • Reply 15 of 54
    sheffsheff Posts: 1,407member
    I think the long lasting battery is a big deal too, not just the aluminum.the less batteries we need to buy and throw away the better.
  • Reply 16 of 54
    MacProMacPro Posts: 18,225member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by phxdoc View Post


    Being greener is just a bonus to the fact that it is the best looking, best built laptop ever. The engineering and manufacturing is top notch compared to all the others which seen like they are designed and slapped together just to get them out the door in time.



    I agree. There is something totally awesome about holding my MackBook Pro that defies a simple explanation. Even the Apple TV 2's remote is like a work of art. Don't even get me started about my Mac Pro, that beast is gorgeous ... it's a sculpture in Aluminum.
  • Reply 17 of 54
    cgc0202cgc0202 Posts: 624member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by sheff View Post


    I think the long lasting battery is a big deal too, not just the aluminum.the less batteries we need to buy and throw away the better.



    Many of the calculators before the advent of consumer mobile devices were powered by solar cells. Apple applied for a patent on some design ideas to integrate "solar cells" in the design. There are quite a few basic research trying to find ways to better trap as much of the spectral radiations coming from the sun. There are also some innovative research where the solar energy trapping "molecules" can be made of materials that can be "painted" onto the device.



    While such "solar cells" may not be sufficient to supply the energy needs of the mobile product, it helps preventing drainage of the battery.



    Another good news is that the technology batteries continue to improve.





    Quote:
    Originally Posted by SockRolid View Post


    I was surprised that the latest Apple TV has a plastic case. Maybe that's just an interim design, before Apple either goes to an aluminum enclosure or embeds the circuit board into OEM HDTV sets.



    So maybe Apple's purchase of Liquid Metal was for developing techniques for "injection molding" aluminum the way Liquid Metal does it with their platinum-based alloy.

    .



    It is a simple matter of finding the chemical reaction that would allow "solubilizing" the doping metals to render the material amenable to recycling. Although sometimes, such "chemical reactions" leave more pollutant, akin to the problems encountered in gold, copper, nickle, etc., mines where the toxic biochemical waste may just be dumped in the environment.







    Quote:
    Originally Posted by SockRolid View Post


    Why "injection molding" (quoted because the Liquid Metal process is far more advanced than just injection molding)? Because as difficult as the process is to set up, it must take far less time than grinding out all that aluminum from a solid billet. Instead of forming the billet and machining 80% of it out, you could just form the enclosure. Boom.



    As noted in my prior posts, creating housing and other industrial components of a product usually integrate the "molding process" and then precision machining using laser guided tools to achieve "zero tolerance" in precision design and manufacture.



    CGC
  • Reply 18 of 54
    whozownwhozown Posts: 128member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Jonamac View Post


    I love waking up in the morning and feeling the cold metal of my MacBook Pro when I start work.



    I agree. I love that cold metal feeling at the start of a new day, the sensation is quite pleasing. And I love reading articles like this, it's give me a good feeling inside.
  • Reply 19 of 54
    apple ][apple ][ Posts: 8,652member
    Apple's products are not just more environmentally sustainable than other company's products solely because of the materials that they use.



    Apple's products are more environmentally sustainable because of the simple fact that many of them are collectables, so people tend to hang on to them, whereas other generic PC products end up in the trash after a few years, where they rightfully belong may I add. I haven't thrown out a single Apple product that I have ever bought. And if I didn't need one of them anymore, I'd simply sell it, which wouldn't be a difficult task.



    Take all of the millions of tablets that companies are going to be releasing because they're all jumping on the iPad tablet wagon. That basically amounts to an environmental catastrophe of enormous proportions, because millions of them will be sitting on the shelves, unsold, and all of that plastic will probably end up in the dumpsters in short time.
  • Reply 20 of 54
    nvidia2008nvidia2008 Posts: 9,262member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by phxdoc View Post


    Being greener is just a bonus to the fact that it is the best looking, best built laptop ever. The engineering and manufacturing is top notch compared to all the others which seen like they are designed and slapped together just to get them out the door in time.



    Looking back, it really is one of those things, where you sit back and wonder how we ever got by with these plastic Mac laptops, even as beautiful as they were, the Mac unibodies are the current pinnacle of "computer" design of the past few decades. For the PowerBook/ MacBook Pros, I never liked anything made after the Titanium PowerBook and before the unibody MBP. The non-unibody Aluminium MBP 15" always felt a bit too "kludgy".



    When compared with anything non-Mac though, the difference is just amazing and it's been 3 years and regular laptops still look like cheap plastic crap... Nobody is even close. Ever since my iBook G3 500mhz circa 2001, there's been no reason to even consider a PC laptop, thank goodness.



    The iPad... now that is a work of art as well, though in this case it's so minimalist yet so functional, it's in a new class of its own.
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