Apple patent could lead to carbon fiber MacBook housings

Posted:
in General Discussion edited January 2014
Apple on Tuesday was granted a patent for a carbon fiber molding process that could one day be used to produce parts made from the lightweight material, like laptop casings or mobile device chassis.

Apple's U.S Patent No. 8,257,075 for a "Carbon composite mold design" describes the systems and methods needed to manufacture "aesthetically pleasing" parts from carbon fiber and other resin based composites.

While the applications of carbon fiber composite materials are many, Apple specifically notes that the invention can be used to "form outer housings for a laptop computer or other similar device." The patent may prove useful as an increasing consumer demand has pushed the industry toward slim and sleek portables with relatively heavy large screens. For example, the weight of the much-rumored next-generation iPhone's expected 4-inch screen could be offset by a carbon fiber monocoque.

It seems that the invention is aimed at larger devices like Apple's MacBook line, however, much like Sony's carbon fiber Vaio Z thin-and-light series.

Mold Apparatus
Source: USPTO


From the patent's background:
As but one example, it would be particularly helpful if portable electronic device housings and components could be stronger and more durable than what is now typically provided in plastic parts that are formed via ordinary plastic injection molding processes. In particular, it would be beneficial if laptops, notebook computers, and other relatively large and heavy portable computing devices could have outer housings that are better able to protect the entire device from drops and other mechanical shocks.
The patent notes that traditional resin-based composites are made by layering resin-impregnated sheets of into or over a mold, which then cures under increased heat and pressure. Removal of the part can prove a hassle as the resins stick to the mold surfaces, which often requires manual prying and peeling from an operator. As a result, surface blemishes and other defects often occur.

Apple's proposed method looks to enable the mass-production of carbon fiber parts that have a consistent visual appearance by streamlining the manufacturing process.

Mold Cutaway


The invention calls for a two-part mold, one a cavity and another portion "adapted to mate with the first," allowing composite parts to be formed in between. After curing, ejector pins located on one or both of the mold portions are used to separate the material from the mold body.

In another embodiment, a mold can have one or more internal fluid lines to help with cooling, a permanent release coating, and guide pins to accurately align the fiber sheets. Either a fluid or gas-actuated ejection system can also be employed for easy removal of the cured parts.

While Apple has shown no signs of using the advanced carbon fiber molding techniques in any future devices, the company may very well choose to do so in its push toward lighter and stronger products.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 44
    sflocalsflocal Posts: 5,728member


    If anyone can pull it off, it's Apple.  I'm not a fan of carbon fiber though.  It's just a nasty process to work with.  Recycling that stuff is not a walk in the park.  It doesn't seem to be Apple's style to be mass-producing that stuff.

  • Reply 2 of 44
    mcrsmcrs Posts: 172member


    Getting ready for the 7th generation Iphone, anyone?

  • Reply 3 of 44
    Do [I]other[/I] companies patent stuff like this all the time?

    Apple was just granted a patent for a carbon fiber molding process... streamlining the method of molding carbon fiber.

    Were other companies on the brink of this new method too... but Apple just beat them to the patent office?

    Or is this one of those crazy ideas that only Apple would ever think of... yet it will be deemed "obvious" when everyone [I]else[/I] want to use it? Who wants to bet some other company will end up doing it... and get dragged into court?

    My point is.... starting today Apple has a patent on a new method of carbon fiber production. If you want to use it... you have to license it. Or come up with your [B]own[/B] method.

    I only bring it up because of the recent courtroom battles.
  • Reply 4 of 44
    cnocbuicnocbui Posts: 3,613member


    I would be surprised if prior art didn't pop up to invalidate this.

     

  • Reply 5 of 44
    MarvinMarvin Posts: 14,538moderator
    sflocal wrote: »
    If anyone can pull it off, it's Apple.  I'm not a fan of carbon fiber though.  It's just a nasty process to work with.  Recycling that stuff is not a walk in the park.  It doesn't seem to be Apple's style to be mass-producing that stuff.

    They could use it for minor things like the Macbook hinges or the plastic Apple logos so they are less prone to cracking.
  • Reply 6 of 44


    Apple patents whatever they possibly can (particularly in design), and have been doing it for years. Patenting is in their DNA. Others don't, aren't fast enough, or don't take the idea seriously. 


     


    This helps Apple release great products that often put their competitors to shame. 


     


    Competitors mess with Apple's IP because they didn't take seriously what Apple took *very* seriously.


     


    Apple has a problem with competitors messing with their IP - often the same competitors who didn't take patenting seriously/didn't understand their long-term significance and got lazy because it was too late anyway.


     


    Apple looks to legal remedies.


     


    Competitors who are thus affected cry foul. 


     


    Apple keeps going after them. 


     


    Conclusion: the industry outside Cupertino needs to smarten up. 

  • Reply 7 of 44

    Quote:

    Originally Posted by Michael Scrip View Post



    Do other companies patent stuff like this all the time?

    Apple was just granted a patent for a carbon fiber molding process... streamlining the method of molding carbon fiber.

    Were other companies on the brink of this new method too... but Apple just beat them to the patent office?

    Or is this one of those crazy ideas that only Apple would ever think of... yet it will be deemed "obvious" when everyone else want to use it? Who wants to bet some other company will end up doing it... and get dragged into court?

    My point is.... starting today Apple has a patent on a new method of carbon fiber production. If you want to use it... you have to license it. Or come up with your own method.

    I only bring it up because of the recent courtroom battles.


     


    Apple's been playing the game this way since the early days. 


     


    I have no no sympathy for competitors who can't keep up.

  • Reply 8 of 44
    rogifanrogifan Posts: 10,669member
    cnocbui wrote: »
    I would be surprised if prior art didn't pop up to invalidate this.

     
    I believe Lenovo makes carbon fiber laptops. But obviously these patents are about specific methods and implementation. Of course cue the trolls who will oversimplify and claim Apple is patenting carbon fiber laptops when [insert competitor name here] has been doing so for years.
  • Reply 9 of 44
    deleted
  • Reply 10 of 44
    cnocbuicnocbui Posts: 3,613member

    Quote:

    Originally Posted by Rogifan View Post





    I believe Lenovo makes carbon fiber laptops. But obviously these patents are about specific methods and implementation. Of course cue the trolls who will oversimplify and claim Apple is patenting carbon fiber laptops when [insert competitor name here] has been doing so for years.




    I know Apple were patenting a molding process, not a product.  I wonder which part of this Apple thinks is new, the ejector pins?


     


     


    Quote:


    Ejector Pins: Pushing Your Parts Around


    Ejector pins are the ‘bouncers’ of the injection molding world. They apply a force to eject a part from the mold, and in some cases can leave marks. At Protomold, our goal is to design and position pins to minimize their effect on your parts, and while Protomold typically determines pin placement, customers get to sign off on pin locations before an order is finalized.


    Pins are located in the B-side mold half, the side in which the part will stay when the mold opens. Once the mold is opened, the pins extend into the mold cavity, push the part out, and then retract, allowing the mold to close and be refilled.




     


     


    Quote:














    Ejection systems


     


    The method of ejection has to be adapted to the shape of the molding to prevent damage. In general, mould release is hindered by shrinkage of the part on the mould cores. Large ejection areas uniformly distributed over the molding are advised to avoid deformations.


    Several ejector systems can be used:



    • Ejector pin or sleeve


    • Blades


    • Air valve


    • Stripper plate




     


    Air pressure is already used to eject parts from molds.  Two part molds aren't new either. Guide pins aren't new.  I will be surprised if anything in this patent is new.

  • Reply 11 of 44
    jeffdmjeffdm Posts: 12,951member
    I don't think Apple will use this. Carbon fiber isn't well suited to large, flat surfaces. You'll need more curves and ridges compared to other materials to make it rigid like unibody.
  • Reply 12 of 44


    I have to agree.  I was at Lockheed a few weeks ago working on a project for them.  They were molding some carbon fiber aircraft parts using a process that looks exactly like this patent.  It was a two piece aluminum mold with a ceramic non-stick coating.  The upper and lower mold sections had heaters in them to warm the mold and also liquid cooling to chill it.  It used ejector pins around the perimeter along with air pressure to release the part from the mold...


     


    I really do not see much difference from this patent claim.....

  • Reply 13 of 44


    I was wondering when this was going to show up again...


     


    It's been almost a year and a half since this:


    http://www.engadget.com/2011/04/11/apple-hires-carbon-fiber-expert-kevin-kenney-to-posit-composites/


     


    Plus I remember hearing Apple talk about Carbon Fiber frames for laptops even longer ago than this.

  • Reply 14 of 44


    Eww. Aluminum please.

  • Reply 15 of 44


    A company already has a carbon-fiber laptop for sale, so Apple won't be the first.  They also make desktop PC cases.


    http://www.geek.com/articles/chips/gigabyte-x11-carbon-fiber-laptop-is-worlds-lightest-20120531/


    I don't know if this company already got a patent or not.  Apple is probably not the first company to do anything because there are smaller companies willing to experiment with niche products.  Apple will only do something that has mass market appeal in order to make money.  Carbon-fiber cases may not have enough profitability to make it worthwhile for Apple to use.  If Apple is the first to get a patent, I hope it can make it stick in court when other manufacturers follow if Apple has any success at all with the material.

  • Reply 16 of 44
    neilmneilm Posts: 899member

    Quote:

    Originally Posted by cnocbui View Post

    Air pressure is already used to eject parts from molds.  Two part molds aren't new either. Guide pins aren't new. 


     


    That was my immediate reaction too. Anyone who's been around plastic moulding, or even aluminum die-casting, is familiar with these processes for ejecting the finished part.


     


    I wonder if it's possible to patent the use of an existing process for use on a new material, in this case CF?

  • Reply 17 of 44
    drblankdrblank Posts: 3,383member


    One of the problems with carbon fiber is when it is dropped and it might develop exposure to the fibers.  For some applications it is great, but it can only withstand certain amounts of abuse.


     


    If Apple does happen to use, I hope they field test it first to find out how much abuse it can take before the carbon fiber starts to expose the fibers.

  • Reply 18 of 44


    Got really scared for a second. I saw in the featured posts that Apple was going to release new MBPs. Here were my reactions. It can't be... but what if it is... not this soon... oh it's from Aprilimage. Reason I was scared: My new MBP is on the delivery truck headed for my house after months of wanting it and three weeks of shipping.

  • Reply 19 of 44


    I'm presently copyrighting the letter A in addition to patenting wood and flat glass...

  • Reply 20 of 44


    I don't care for Apple's patenting this, given how nasty they're getting at using patents to crush competition. But I've never cared for metal laptop enclosures, since that can make WiFi coverage spotty. It'd be great if carbon fiber could come to the next generation MacBook Air.

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