Apple wins two patents on feedstock, molding for Liquidmetal alloys

Posted:
in General Discussion edited June 2015
Apple has won two new U.S. patents through its ties with exclusive materials partner Liquidmetal, addressing ways of manufacturing amorphous alloys including hollowed-out shapes.




The first patent was originally applied for in May 2012, and documents a kind of feedstock -- raw material -- made of bulk metallic glass, which can then be used in an injection molding process for manufacturing products. The second dates back to February 2011 and covers a thermoplastic molding method involving two different fluids, and allows producing both three-dimensional hollow objects and ones with extreme aspect ratios.




The patents credit people known to work for either Apple or Liquidmetal. Two people, Quoc Tran Pham and Theodore Andy Waniuk, are mentioned in both patents and are the only credited inventors for the thermoplastic molding concept.

Apple has been picking up a number of Liquidmetal patents in recent years, thanks to a licensing arrangement dating back to 2010. It's still unknown how many current-generation Apple products use Liquidmetal technology, if any, although the company is believed to have used the material for SIM card ejector pins.

Any use on a significant scale would require high-volume mass manufacturing, something Apple has been building towards through accumulated patents. But it's unclear whether the prohibitive costs associated with Liquidmetal have been addressed enough to use the material in a more meaningful way.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 22
    THIS is how you do it.... years of research and accumulating patents. When it's time to move to mass production you have years of a lead on the wannabe competition... and playing catchup is a bitch!
    And Liquid Metal is only one of several areas reported on this site where Apple is straining to make a breakthrough. And then there are other areas of technology we have not even a rumor of.
  • Reply 2 of 22

    Liquid metal seems very cool, but SpaceX manages to 3D print rocket engine parts, so I would think long term 3D printing would offer the most design flexibility, strength and precision.

     

    But perhaps liquid metal would be faster to produce than 3D printed parts.

  • Reply 3 of 22
    Might be good for a Watch casing.
  • Reply 4 of 22
    fallenjtfallenjt Posts: 4,034member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by TheWhiteFalcon View Post



    Might be good for a Watch casing.

    And the damn iPhone/iPad casing too. 

  • Reply 5 of 22
    zirconzircon Posts: 9member
    Amorphous alloys (LiquidMetals) have some attractive properties and some not so attractive properties. The article mentions cost. That is perhaps the largest bugaboo that is holding back adoption of this form of material. The composition of amorphous alloys is such that they rely on prodigious amounts of expensive base metals - zirconium, titanium, niobium, palladium, and the like. These metals have to be quite pure with a low oxygen concentration. Oxygen screws up the ability to form an amorphous (randomly ordered atomic structure) alloy. This requires very expensive refining techniques - especially for the reactive/refractory metals like Zr, Ti, and Nb. These metals can range in price from $20 - $25 per pound up to hundreds of dollars per ounce. In order to compete the alloy really needs to come in at under $10 per pound. This will be a major challenge.

    LiquidMetal has a very high fluidity and it can reproduce amazing detail. One application that has been discussed is scalpels formed by casting the knife edge. It is strong and corrosion resistant and is very stiff (high Young's modulus.) However, it's impact resistance is more akin to glass. It has very little ductility - like silicon-based glasses - and is therefore rather brittle. So, while it has the fluidity to cast thin shapes like the casing for a computer, smart phone or tablet, it would likely be too brittle for that application. One good drop and it would tend to shatter. A thicker watch casing, on the other hand, may be attractive as very fine features could be cast into it. Unfortunately, Apple's partner, LiquidMetal Technologies has already licensed Swatch for the timekeeping applications. No idea if it is an exclusive license, but if so then that would leave Apple having to negotiate with Swatch and LiquidMetal to secure rights to use it in The Watch.

    So, attractive properties, if used in the proper application, but with a very high raw material cost it will be a while before we see commercialization of these alloys in any volume.
  • Reply 6 of 22
    carthusiacarthusia Posts: 574member
    I think I read Apple's exclusive consumer electronics deal is ending in 2015. I could be wrong and I didn't search around for the link. It would be hard to believe all this work will come to nothing.
  • Reply 7 of 22
    vl-tonevl-tone Posts: 337member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by TheWhiteFalcon View Post



    Might be good for a Watch casing.



    It would be perfect. 

     

    But : http://www.swatchgroup.com/en/services/archive/2011/swatch_group_signs_exclusive_license_agreement_with_liquidmetal_technologies

  • Reply 8 of 22
    vl-tonevl-tone Posts: 337member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by Carthusia View Post



    I think I read Apple's exclusive consumer electronics deal is ending in 2015. I could be wrong and I didn't search around for the link. It would be hard to believe all this work will come to nothing.



    From this article : http://www.theverge.com/2012/6/19/3096368/apple-liquidmetal-exclusive-deal-2014

    Quote:


     Update: This post contained a factual error — the licensing agreement between Apple and Liquidmetal is perpetual in the markets in which Apple competes, and will not expire in 2014.


     

    So apparently the license is "perpetual" in markets in which Apple competes, and I think the Swatch exclusive license is also perpetual.

  • Reply 9 of 22
    anantksundaramanantksundaram Posts: 20,225member
    carthusia wrote: »
    I think I read Apple's exclusive consumer electronics deal is ending in 2015. I could be wrong and I didn't search around for the link. It would be hard to believe all this work will come to nothing.

    I don't think that's true. It's perpetual, as I recall.

    (Pipped by VL-Tone).
  • Reply 10 of 22
    chris_cachris_ca Posts: 2,543member
    How did Apple "win" these patents?
    Oh, you mean they were granted patent status by the USPTO.
  • Reply 11 of 22
    Quote:


    Liquid metal seems very cool, but SpaceX manages to 3D print rocket engine parts, so I would think long term 3D printing would offer the most design flexibility, strength and precision.

     

    But perhaps liquid metal would be faster to produce than 3D printed parts.



     

    Huh? Did you just make this up completely? Because no part of it makes any sense. 3D printing currently offers much LESS design flexibility and much LESS precision, and no documented advantages in "strength".

  • Reply 12 of 22
    singularitysingularity Posts: 1,328member
    chris_ca wrote: »
    How did Apple "win" these patents?
    Oh, you mean they were granted patent status by the USPTO.

    Apple sends it's gladiators into the Thunderdome and left as the winners to claim the prize of the "patent"
  • Reply 13 of 22
    "But it's unclear whether the prohibitive costs associated with Liquidmetal have been addressed enough to use the material in a more meaningful way."

    Please provide some proof that the costs are prohibitive! Perhaps somebody pulled up some old information and wrote that damaging statement without any research.

    Perhaps this is no longer true given that Engel is currently making a metal-injection-molding machine licensed by LiquidMetal (http://www.engelglobal.com/en/us/liquidmetal-en.html) and Materion is a licensed supplier of raw material. Apple is doing a lot of R&D with this material, and in recent months, LiquidMetal has received well over 100 RFQs. There is a new military-style knife being produced (just launched) from Mitner-Adams using the material. It's incredible to think all this activity is using a material that is "cost-prohibitive".

    If this were my site, I might print a retraction.
  • Reply 14 of 22
    What's not to say that liquid metal and 3D printing won't eventually merge together in their processes. I know exact cooling and temperature control over liquid metal is very important
    nevermark wrote: »
    Liquid metal seems very cool, but SpaceX manages to 3D print rocket engine parts, so I would think long term 3D printing would offer the most design flexibility, strength and precision.

    But perhaps liquid metal would be faster to produce than 3D printed parts.
  • Reply 15 of 22
    puppspupps Posts: 1member
    I've just come back from a demonstration of Engel's Liquidmetal injection moulding machine at the company's St Valentin plant in Austria. It will allow for mass manufacture of LM parts.
    The raw material is pricy €100/kg. But consider the cost, and time, of milling a unibody MacBook chassis. And compare with two-three minutes cycle time with Engel's machine.
  • Reply 16 of 22

    Exactly, not really "cost prohibitive" as mentioned in the article above.

  • Reply 17 of 22
    icoco3icoco3 Posts: 1,468member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by Pupps View Post



    I've just come back from a demonstration of Engel's Liquidmetal injection moulding machine at the company's St Valentin plant in Austria. It will allow for mass manufacture of LM parts.

    The raw material is pricy €100/kg. But consider the cost, and time, of milling a unibody MacBook chassis. And compare with two-three minutes cycle time with Engel's machine.

     

    Any links to more information about this process?

  • Reply 18 of 22
    Looking forward to the next generation of ejector pins...
  • Reply 19 of 22
    Apple sends it's gladiators into the Thunderdome and left as the winners to claim the prize of the "patent"

    That's not until after the apocalypse.
  • Reply 20 of 22
    jackansijackansi Posts: 116member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by Chris_CA View Post



    How did Apple "win" these patents?

    Oh, you mean they were granted patent status by the USPTO.



    Sometimes the patenting process is a race to be the first to get it through the system...  so "win" can be an appropriate term in cases where it is known that two or more parties have submitted applications.

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