The US Patent & Trademark Office published a patent application from Apple that relates to laminated polymer fabrics and the cutting of laminated polymer fabrics using laser techniques that are well suited for consumer products made by Apple. Another fabric related patent surfacing today updates a 2015 patent relating to the field of woven fabric displays which include fibers having varying optical properties. One example describes the top lid of a future MacBook being a smart fabric which could display messages and time on the lid when closed.
Apple further notes that the smart fabrics could also be incorporated into the palm rest area of the MacBook that could light up with messages about the status of the MacBook and more. In another example, Apple describes a faux suede fabric look for a future MacBook which could be a nice change from aluminum.
Polyurethane laminated fabrics are laminated fabrics generally characterized as being flexible and water resistant, and are thus used in a wide range of applications including garments and medical equipment and accessories.
The polyurethane laminated fabrics generally include woven fibers or threads of material that give them a flexible and cloth-like feel and movement. One of the manufacturing challenges associated with using polyurethane laminated fabrics as a raw material is that when the laminated fabric is cut, the cut woven fibers or threads can protrude from edges of the laminated fabric, leaving a ragged and cosmetically unappealing edge.
In addition, the fibers or threads may be a different color than the polyurethane, exacerbating the cosmetic problem. What are needed therefore are methods for efficiently cutting polyurethane laminated fabrics such that the cut laminated fabric has clean and cosmetically appealing edges.
Apple's invention relates to laser techniques for cutting laminated fabric materials. In particular embodiments, efficient laser cutting techniques for forming cosmetically appealing cut edges on laminated fabrics in a manufacturing setting.
The invention includes a method of forming a cosmetic edge on a laminated fabric. The laminated fabric includes a polymer layer and a fabric layer. The fabric layer includes fibers. The method includes cutting an edge of the laminated fabric by directing a laser beam at the laminated fabric. During the cutting, the laser beam melts a portion of the polymer layer forming a pool of melted polymer material, wherein the pool of melted polymer material coats the fibers along the edge so as to prevent exposure of the fibers along the edge.
In some embodiments, the fibers are synthetic fibers, such as polymer-based fibers, carbon fibers, or glass fibers. In other embodiments, the fibers include natural fibers such as cotton, wool or flax. In some embodiments, the fibers include a combination of different types of synthetic fibers and/or natural fibers. The material for fibers can be chosen based on high strength modulus, chemical and thermal stability and other factors. Suitable synthetic polymer fibers can include Vectran (RTM of Kuraray America, Inc.) and Kevlar (RTM of DuPont).
Fabric layers can be sandwiched between a first polymer layer and second polymer layer which can act as physical and moisture barriers to the fabric layer.
A Cosmetic layer can be made of any suitable material and be chosen for qualities such as a desired color, texture, durability, fade resistance, etc. In a particular embodiment, a cosmetic layer can includes a faux suede material. In some cases more than one cosmetic layer is used.
Apple's patent FIG. 1 noted above shows us a plan view and a partial cross-section view of laminated fabric. FIG. 2B shows laminated the fabric #102 after laser beam #202 has completed several impingements within the laminated fabric such that subsequent pool #206 of melted polymer material from the first polymer layer #106 is formed; FIG. 4 is a flowchart indicating a process for cutting a laminated fabric.
Apple's patent application was filed back in Q1 2016. Considering that this is a patent application, the timing of such a product to market is unknown at this time.
While we're on the subject of next-gen materials that Apple may use in future products, a continuation patent surfaced today covering the topic of a "Woven Display."
For a general overview of noted Apple's invention you could review our original report titled "Apple Reveals Future Smart Apple Watch Band that could Act as a Messaging Display" that was posted in December 2015.
As is the case with many inventions that Apple is working on, new developments and advancements are ongoing and when significant advances are made, Apple moves to legally nail them down by extending the original patent claims so as to protect key aspects of an invention.
The key additions to their patent
Apple's patent claims now introduce a dual display design as follows:
"A fabric comprising: a plurality of woven fibers, wherein at least some of the fibers are light-transmissive fibers, and wherein each light-transmissive fiber defines multiple light-transmissive portions within a display region, wherein the light-transmissive portions selectively illuminate to create a first illuminated design in the display region, and wherein the first illuminated design transitions to a second illuminated design in the display region by changing which light transmissive portions are illuminated."
Secondly, Apple's invention now includes warp and weft fibers: Claim #2: The fabric of claim 1, wherein the woven material has warp fibers and weft fibers, wherein some of the warp fibers are light-transmissive fibers, and wherein the weft fibers are not light-transmissive fibers.
Other new claims include:
Claim #4: The fabric of claim 1, wherein some of the light-transmissive portions have different sizes from others of the light-transmissive portions.
Claim #5: The fabric of claim 1, wherein at least one of the first illuminated design and the second illuminated design comprises a representation of alpha-numeric text.
Claim #8: The fabric of claim 1, further comprising a light source in electronic communication with a processor of an electronic device.
Claim #11: A fabric display system comprising: a woven fabric forming a display region; a light source configured to direct light through fibers of the woven fabric to illuminate discrete portions of the fibers; and an electronic device in electronic communication with the light source, wherein the electronic device sends signals to the light source to selectively illuminate at least some of the discrete portions of the fibers to create a first illuminated design and to transition the first illuminated design to a second illuminated design.
Claim #13: The fabric display system of claim 11, wherein the fabric is physically connected to the electronic device.
Claim #16: The fabric display system of claim 11, wherein the fabric forms a carrying pouch for the electronic device [related to the MacBook illustration above], and wherein at least one of the first illuminated design and the second illuminated design display information from the electronic device.
MacBook Cover Display & Carrying Pouch
Apple's continuation patent elaborates on the messaging and the woven displays on the MacBook in addition to a MacBook pouch and/or carrying case. Below are just a few added points that weren't covered in the original report because this information wasn't available at that time.
Referring to FIG. 13 which is illustrated above, Apple notes that the top portion #52 of a MacBook #49 is shown in a closed position. In one embodiment, the outside cover portion #56 includes a woven fabric that has been invested with a resin such that it is formed as part of the housing such that the fabric portion #21 is visible to a user.
The Fabric may also be added to an existing housing as a cover portion. Information, such as time on a digital clock is displayed by the light transmissive fibers in the fabric.
The information displayed may go beyond mere time to include information about the status of the MacBook or an indication of messages received or calendar information regarding appointments could be visually conveyed to a user on the outside of the MacBook when it is, or is not, otherwise in use. For example, the visible light portions on the fabric could blink when a message is received to alert the user.
In an alternate embodiment, the fabric is made into a carrying pouch or case accessory. Fabric MacBook accessories could also take on the appearance of a a backpack or a purse which may be removably connected to the MacBook.
Apple's patent application was filed back in Q4 2016. Considering that this is a patent application, the timing of such a product to market is unknown at this time.
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