Filing confirms Apple exploring carbon fiber Mac enclosures

Posted:
in Future Apple Hardware edited January 2014
A new patent filing discovered by AppleInsider provides some of the first public evidence that Apple is indeed exploring carbon fiber-like enclosures for future product designs, corroborating an earlier report on the matter.



In the 9-page filing published for the first time this week, the Mac maker explains that carbon fiber reinforced plastic, also referred to as carbon fiber composites, provide a very strong, lightweight material for forming housings for electronic devices and portable computers.



The company describes in some detail how these composites are traditionally formed by laying sheets of carbon fiber material into a mold that is the shape of the desired product, which is then filled with thermosetting resin that is "cured" and cooled until the thermoplastic resin is below its glass transition temperature, thereby allowing the material to maintain the shape of the mold.



There are also some alternative methods to forming carbon fiber composites, though Apple takes issue with all of them because the methods produce composites that are almost always black in color with carbon fibers visible on the composite surface, which together threaten to dictate the aesthetic of products for which they're employed.



"In addition, the fibers (either as a unidirectional, woven, or nonwoven substrate) are typically variable in their construction and therefore are variable in their surface presentation," the company says. "As a result, the resulting carbon fiber composite can have cosmetic imperfections that reduce the aesthetic appearance of the molded article formed therefrom. Further, carbon fiber composites, often being black, provide a narrow range of surface appearance to the molded article and therefore may give a 'tired,' unexciting look."



Apple's fairly detailed and technical solution to the problem is described as such:



A composite laminate having an improved cosmetic surface is presented herein. The composite laminate includes a plurality of sheets of preimpregnated material, or prepreg, stacked one over another and a scrim layer provided on an exterior surface of the sheets of prepreg. The scrim layer and the sheets of prepreg form a composite laminate whereby the scrim layer constitutes an outer, exposed surface of the composite laminate. Each sheet of prepreg is made from fibers preimpregnated with resin, and the fibers of the prepreg may be substantially parallel or woven carbon fibers. The scrim layer may be a glass fiber or carbon fiber scrim, or veil, that has absorbed resin from the sheets of prepreg during a molding process. In another embodiment, the composite laminate includes a plurality of sheets of prepreg stacked one over another and first and second scrim layers provided on opposing exterior surfaces of the sheets of prepreg, whereby the sheets of prepreg are sandwiched between the first and second scrim layers. The first and second scrim layers constitute exposed surfaces of the composite laminate.



Enclosing a carbon fiber composite in a thin scrim made of glass fiber -- which is less stiff than carbon fiber -- would offer improved impact resistance over a similar composite laminate incorporating a carbon fiber scrim and would also hide the reinforcing fibers of the carbon fiber prepreg sheets, Apple claims.







"Since scrim absorbs resin of the composite, scrim takes on the cosmetic properties and color of resin. Also [...] scrim is very thin, and it is translucent, and the underlying fibers of composite are partially visible therethrough," the company explains in more detail. "The combination of resin and scrim forming scrim layer imparts a depth to surface of composite laminate, thereby providing an improved cosmetic surface of a molded article formed therefrom that is not only consistent in appearance, but is also aesthetically pleasing."



As such, Apple concludes that the "embodiments of the present invention described herein provide a designer with the opportunity to produce molded articles that have the advantageous properties of carbon fiber composites, without being limited to its black color or its imperfections in appearance."



Readers may recall that last November AppleInsider cited people familiar with Apple's portable computing plans who noted that the company has been looking into substituting carbon fiber parts for certain structural components of its notebook products that are currently cast from heavier aircraft-grade aluminum.



A breakdown of the Air's weight provided by iFixit.



In particular, the Mac maker was said to be exploring the idea specifically for the MacBook Air by which it would replacing the Air's lower aluminum case, or bottom cover, with one constructed from carbon fiber.



The move would reportedly raise production costs but shave upwards of a 100 grams off the ultra-thin notebook, dropping its weight from a hair over 3 pounds (or 1363 grams) to 2.78 pounds (or 1263 grams). At the time, a pre-production unit showcasing the new part was said to be floating around in one of the company's labs, looking identical to the existing Air with the exception of the carbon fiber bottom, which, contrary to Apple's liking, appeared in the material's native black.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 88
    solipsismsolipsism Posts: 25,726member
    I like those machines with the carbon fiber bottom. The two tone look is stylish. But is shaving 100 grams off the current weight worth the expense?
  • Reply 2 of 88
    No, no, no, no, no! I like the aluminum! Don't go back to anything that looks plasticky!
  • Reply 3 of 88
    melgrossmelgross Posts: 32,959member
    Every time a "better" material is used, it costs more, such are the facts of material technology.
  • Reply 4 of 88
    outsideroutsider Posts: 6,008member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by melgross View Post


    Every time a "better" material is used, it costs more, such are the facts of material technology.



    I don't know... Aluminum may be a cheaper material, but the machining process certainly isn't. Carbon fiber, like fiberglass, is a pretty simple process in terms of manufacturing.
  • Reply 5 of 88
    virgil-tb2virgil-tb2 Posts: 1,416member
    This makes sense given that right after the first iPhone came out, Apple advertised for (and presumably hired) a really high end carbon fibre composite person.
  • Reply 6 of 88
    kasperkasper Posts: 941member, administrator
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Virgil-TB2 View Post


    This makes sense given that right after the first iPhone came out, Apple advertised for (and presumably hired) a really high end carbon fibre composite person.



    ? You have a reference?



    Best,



    K
  • Reply 7 of 88
    solipsismsolipsism Posts: 25,726member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Kasper View Post


    ? You have a reference?



    Best,



    K



    ? http://www.appleinsider.com/articles...ok_design.html
  • Reply 8 of 88
    bageljoeybageljoey Posts: 1,917member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by AppleInsider View Post


    A new patent filing discovered by AppleInsider provides some of the first public evidence that Apple is indeed exploring carbon fiber-like enclosures for future product designs, corroborating an earlier report on the matter.




    So...Apple is patenting a method for forming carbon fiber cases? Does anybody know how these "method" patents work?



    Could another company change the composition of the resin or the scrim and claim that it is outside of the patent? Or is Apple attempting to lock up the idea of using a cosmetic glass fiber surface over top of carbon fiber?



    I generally understand what Apple want's to do, but I don't understand the scope of the expected/intended patent protection...
  • Reply 9 of 88
    tmantstmants Posts: 4member
    here



    Here is the reference, I applied for this potision, unfortunately the picked sb else
  • Reply 10 of 88
    fraklincfraklinc Posts: 244member
    Why does everything made from Carbon fiber has to have a freggin glossy cheesey plastic look?
  • Reply 11 of 88
    bloggerblogbloggerblog Posts: 2,004member
    The new MacBook aluminum enclosures might be pricier to mill but that process saves lots of money in the assembly process which require fewer parts to manufacture. So in the end the cost should be the same.
  • Reply 12 of 88
    akhomerunakhomerun Posts: 386member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by fraklinc View Post


    Why does everything made from Carbon fiber has to have a freggin glossy cheesey plastic look?



    probably because that's what the material looks like - although i'm sure there's something that can be done to make it look better than it does in most products
  • Reply 13 of 88
    andyappleandyapple Posts: 152member
    I don't get it-- wasn't one of the purposes of using aluminum in the MacBooks to make them recyclable? Can't imagine it is too easy to recycle carbon fiber laminates! But in something small like an iPod/iPhone it could make sense, were the finished product to be more impact and scratch resistant.
  • Reply 14 of 88
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by melgross View Post


    Every time a "better" material is used, it costs more, such are the facts of material technology.



    indeed. Given the prices of CF tripods over 'standard' aluminum ones - ouch... Unless someone as large as apple and it's volume can get the process done cheaper...
  • Reply 15 of 88
    ulfoafulfoaf Posts: 175member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Outsider View Post


    I don't know... Aluminum may be a cheaper material, but the machining process certainly isn't. Carbon fiber, like fiberglass, is a pretty simple process in terms of manufacturing.



    Working with carbon fiber is nasty. I don't like being around it at all - I worked in aerospace. If Apple is trying to be "green," this would not be the way to go. You need to be covered head to toe to work with the stuff safely. If the carbon fibers get in your skin, it doesn't ever come out. The resins used are also nasty and you don't want them touching your skin. I'd say no thanks to something that is in that close proximity to me on a daily basis.



    Of course, breathing aluminum dust is really bad too ....
  • Reply 16 of 88
    kasperkasper Posts: 941member, administrator
    Quote:



    Oh yeah -- I'm aware of that. I thought you meant there was an article somewhere identifying an individual who was actually hired.



    Best,



    K
  • Reply 17 of 88
    Carbon fiber doesn't have to be glossy or cheap looking. High-end tripods and monopods for photography/video, lightweight performance car parts, even boat hulls can be made from carbon fiber, and they aren't glossy. They are only glossy if it's going to be for display purposes. In which case the resin can possibly discolor over time, like carbon fiber hoods and spoilers some people put in their cars.
  • Reply 18 of 88
    Thermoset Composites are not recyclable at all...Unfortunately
  • Reply 19 of 88
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by tmants View Post


    Thermoset Composites are not recyclable at all...Unfortunately



    Since the article mentioned cooling the resin below its Tg (edit: and it says it is a thermoplastic resin) , it sounds more like a thermoplastic resin to me. Still tough to recycle with all those carbon fibers in it.



    Not sure how patentable this is, given the fact that the outer layers have a name, scrim layers, it seems as if this would be a standard process by now. Maybe the patent is just for computer cases or for protection against patent trolls.
  • Reply 20 of 88
    paxmanpaxman Posts: 4,666member
    That is one helluva lot of work to loose 100 grams! For a netbook / tablet /iphone / air type device with built in g3 / g4 technology aluminum is problematic, is it not? The research is an investment in future products, I am sure.
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