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Apple Focusing on Unitary Device Designs & Processes

1. Apple Focusing on Unitary Device Designs & Processes
On May 17, 2012, the US Patent & Trademark Office published a patent application from Apple revealing a new manufacturing process. The main focus of this particular invention concerns the creation of devices with a unitary housing without seams or gaps. In March of this year we learned of Apple's use of ultrasonic welding in context with fastening parts within devices such as the iPhone. Today we learn of ultrasonic welding being used in conjunction with metal foil so as to create seamless form factors. It's the kind of stuff that keeps Sir Ive giggling in his sleep.  


Apple's Patent Background


Personal computing and electronic devices, such as laptop computers, media players, cellular telephones and the like are becoming increasingly more sophisticated, powerful and consumer friendly. The ability to fabricate various components of these devices in smaller sizes, while still maintaining or increasing the power, operating speed and aesthetic appeal of such devices, has contributed greatly to this trend. Unfortunately, the trend of smaller, lighter and more powerful portable computing devices presents continuing design challenges in the actual formation of some components for these devices. One design challenge associated with such electronic devices and components therefor is the formation of the outer enclosure or housing used to house the various internal device components therein.


In particular, many electronic devices have housings that are made from several different parts, as well as complex mechanical structures, features, and/or other internal parts that must also connect or attach to the housing. Even in the more eloquently designed electronic devices, outer housings are still typically formed from multiple parts, which tends to result in at least seams or other discontinuities, if not exposed screws, tabs or other component fasteners. For example, outer housings made from just two main parts typically include an upper casing and a lower casing that are placed on top of one another and fastened together using screws or other fastening means. Such techniques typically complicate the housing design and create aesthetic difficulties because of undesirable cracks, seams, gaps or breaks at the mating surfaces, as well as exposed fasteners located along the surfaces of the housing. Even where fasteners are hidden or removed altogether from the outer surfaces of an electronic device, a mating line or seam surrounding the entire enclosure is still often produced when using an upper and lower casing.


Although such seams or gaps generally tend to detract from the overall aesthetic appeal of the device, it is typically necessary to form device housings from multiple parts for the simple reason that access to the internal regions of an electronic device or component is needed at least during the manufacture of the device or component. In instances where access to the internal regions of the device or component is really not needed once the device is manufactured, however, the existence of a mating line, gap, seam, or any other artifacts of manufacture are usually an unnecessary and unseemly byproduct of the manufacturing process.


While many designs and techniques used to provide outer housings for electronic devices and components have generally worked well in the past, there is always a desire to provide alternative housing designs and techniques for new and aesthetically pleasing devices.


Apple Continues to Push the Aesthetics Envelope


Apple's latest invention relates to industrial design. More specifically, it provides an advantage in relationship with a single unitary housing for an electronic device that has no apparent seams or other artifacts of manufacture on its outer surface. This can be accomplished at least in part through the use of housing components that have been ultrasonically welded together with the pertinent internal parts already disposed inside the housing to form a single unitary housing that can be machined and refinished at its outer surfaces as a single item.


Ultrasonic Welding


Apple's patent FIG. 1A shown below illustrates an exemplary metal foil stack being ultrasonically welded together is shown in front perspective view. Ultrasonic bonding system can include a base plate (10), a plurality of thin material layers arranged in a stack (20) and an ultrasonically oscillating roller (30) that is rolled across a top layer of the stack while a downward force (35) is applied to the roller.


In some embodiments, the thin layers of stack 20 can be formed from a metal foil, such that the ultrasonic bonding is in effect a low temperature metal "welding" process. In other embodiments, the thin layers can be of other types of material, such as specially adapted paper or a thermoplastic material suitable for ultrasonic bonding. Apple's patent FIG. 1B illustrates in side elevation view the exemplary metal foil stack of FIG. 1A after the welding process.


2. Apple, mfg. process of foil stack being Ultrasonically welded together


Apple's patent FIG. 2A noted above illustrates in front perspective and partially exploded view an exemplary electronic device prior to full enclosure; FIG. 2B illustrates a front perspective view the exemplary electronic device of FIG. 2A after assembly and full enclosure.


After Machining and Finishing its Outer Surfaces


Apple's patent FIG. 3A shown below illustrates a front perspective view the exemplary electronic device of FIG. 2B after machining and finishing of its outer surfaces; FIG. 3B illustrates a side cross-sectional view the exemplary electronic device of FIG. 3A.


To get to the final product, Apple states that both the lid component (120) and base component (140) can be machined and finished in various regions as shown such that a final rounded product having a unitary outer housing with no apparent seams, gaps or defects is produced.  


3. Unitary Outer Housing


Laminating Foil Layers


Apple's patent FIG. 6A noted below illustrates a front perspective view of an exemplary electronic device prior having a first single laminated foil layer being bonded thereto; FIG. 6B illustrates a front perspective view the exemplary electronic device of FIG. 6A after bonding of all laminated foil layers thereto.


4. Bonding Laminated Foil layers to a device


Patent Credits


Apple's patent applicationwas originally filed in Q4 2010 by inventors Christopher Prest, Stephen Zadesky and Trent Weber.


In Other IP News Today


Apple has filed trademark application 302251773 in Hong Kong China for the protection of their iOS Music Icon as shown below.  Apple claims the colors red, orange and light orange as elements of mark "A" in the series. Apple has filed their trademark under the sole International Class 009 for computer software.


Extra - Apple Files for iOS Music Icon Trademark in China



Patently Apple presents a detailed summary of patent applications with associated graphics for journalistic news purposes as each such patent application is revealed by the U.S. Patent & Trade Office. Readers are cautioned that the full text of any patent application should be read in its entirety for full and accurate details. Revelations found in patent applications shouldn't be interpreted as rumor or fast-tracked according to rumor timetables. Apple's patent applications have provided the Mac community with a clear heads-up on some of Apple's greatest product trends including the iPod, iPhone, iPad, iOS cameras, LED displays, iCloud services for iTunes and more. About Comments: Patently Apple reserves the right to post, dismiss or edit comments.


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