Patent reveals Apple's process for mass producing Liquidmetal alloy

Posted:
in Future Apple Hardware edited January 2014
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."
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 57
    gazoobeegazoobee Posts: 3,754member
    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.
  • Reply 2 of 57
    Apple filed 25 patents watch this
  • Reply 3 of 57
    kdarlingkdarling Posts: 1,640member


    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.

  • Reply 4 of 57
    MacProMacPro Posts: 18,013member
    selva raj wrote: »
    Apple filed 25 patents watch this

    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.
  • Reply 5 of 57
    jragostajragosta Posts: 10,473member
    kdarling wrote: »
    Just thinking aloud...

    <span style="line-height:1.231;">The whole point of LM is the fact that it can be injection molded into shapes, instead of having to be milled.</span>


    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).
  • Reply 6 of 57
    MacProMacPro Posts: 18,013member
    jragosta wrote: »
    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.
  • Reply 7 of 57
    cnocbuicnocbui Posts: 3,613member
    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.
  • Reply 8 of 57
    rogifanrogifan Posts: 10,669member
    cnocbui wrote: »
    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.
  • Reply 9 of 57
    jragostajragosta Posts: 10,473member
    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.
  • Reply 10 of 57
    anantksundaramanantksundaram Posts: 18,970member

    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). image


     


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

  • Reply 11 of 57
    kdarlingkdarling Posts: 1,640member

    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?

  • Reply 12 of 57
    jragostajragosta Posts: 10,473member
    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). :\

    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.
  • Reply 13 of 57
    tallest skiltallest skil Posts: 43,399member
    (although it's up to ¢14, from ¢5, today). :\

    And that's because of this article alone.
  • Reply 14 of 57
    relicrelic Posts: 4,735member
    Why does my phone keep asking me if I'm John Connors.
  • Reply 15 of 57
    jwyattjwyatt Posts: 93member
    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.
  • Reply 16 of 57
    tallest skiltallest skil Posts: 43,399member
    relic wrote: »
    Why does my phone keep asking me if I'm John Connors.

    It's just confused. Tell it you're Sarah.
  • Reply 17 of 57
    jungmarkjungmark Posts: 6,647member
    Introducing the iPhone T1000.
  • Reply 18 of 57
    wizard69wizard69 Posts: 12,703member
    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.
  • Reply 19 of 57
    wizard69wizard69 Posts: 12,703member
    jragosta wrote: »
    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.
  • Reply 20 of 57
    mikejonesmikejones Posts: 323member

    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.

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