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07-17-2013, 07:30 PM #1
Recently Issued Patent Reveals Apple's Process for Mass Producing Liquidmetal Alloy
In 2010, Apple signed an agreement with Caltech spinoff Liquidmetal Technologies, giving Apple exclusive access to the firm’s unique metal alloys for consumer electronics applications. Liquidmetal’s “amorphous metal alloys” which are sometimes referred to as “metallic glass” due to their non-crystalline molecular structures tend to offer several advantages over many other metals including superior strength and durability. The Cupertino California company tested Liquidmetal by using the material in the SIM card eject tool for the iPhone 3G but the material has yet to make any additional appearances in Apple’s products.
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 the subsidiary through at least February 2014. As pointed out by the folks over at MacDailyNews, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office issued a patent assigned to Crucible yesterday, covering processes for mass producing thin sheets of amorphous metal alloys, suggesting that Apple and Liquidmetal are indeed making progress with the material. Of the five inventors listed on the patent which was filed in May of 2012, two of them are Apple product design engineers and three engineers are Liquidmetal Technologies. The following was mentioned regarding the topic:
A conventional method for making a BMG [bulk metallic glass] sheet requires casting a amorphous metal alloy at or above the melting temperature of the amorphous metal alloy, freezing the molten amorphous metal alloy in a sheet mold to form a sheet, and then using a cutting tool to remove the gate portion of the cast sheet and shape the cast sheet into the desired final geometry. However, casting requires melting and cooling of the amorphous metal alloy in a sheet mold, and this can cause uncontrolled amount of amorphicity in the BMG sheet. Furthermore, the post-processing cost for removing the gate and runner overflow and shaping the cast sheet into the desired final sheet geometry can be quite high. Therefore, new methods for making BMG sheets that overcome the above mentioned limitations of the casting process are desirable. [...]
A proposed solution according to embodiments herein for the manufacture of bulk-solidifying amorphous sheets is to use a float glass process and/or a conveyor belt-type process.
Many rumors of Liquidmetal’s alloys being used for Apple’s iPhone have surfaced several times but last year Liquidmetal’s Atakan Peker noted that Apple was unlikely to use the alloys as major design materials for at least 2-4 years due to the production scale needed. With yesterday’s patens however, it does appear that both companies have seem to overcome the hurdles involved. We’ll have to wait and see what happens.
Source: USPTO via MacDailyNews
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