Apple invents novel architectures for the creation of iDevice frames & components using an apparatus with up to 1,000 lasers
It's understood that most of us love to read about new product concepts from Apple for such things as a new MacBook design, an all-glass iMac, a foldable iPad – MacBook configuration, privacy glasses, an iPhone with a wraparound display, a 3-Tier Display for future smartglasses and more. But there are some that love to read about Apple's fanatical attention to detail when designing a product. Apple spends a lot of engineering time on not only developing new versions of Apple's famed products like the iPhone, Apple Watch and Macs, but also on how to engineer better manufacturing systems and processes to remove some of the manual labor that slows manufacturing down and to produce more accurate parts and device frames.
On Thursday, the U.S. Patent Office published an Apple patent application titled "Novel Architectures for High-Throughput Additive Manufacturing." The invention covers an amazing new laser system that could be used in manufacturing Apple device parts and frames/embodiments.
In Apple's patent background they state that the housing or enclosures are relatively complicated components, including fine surface finishes, complex geometries, and intricate features that are used to enhance the function and performance of the electronic devices. The manufacture of such enclosures or housings using traditional methodologies can be labor intensive, require multiple machining and polishing steps, and result in relatively large quantities of material waste.
Recent advances in additive manufacturing processes offer unique opportunities to make electronic device housings and other parts and components while reducing subtractive manufacturing steps and material waste.
Traditional additive manufacturing processes, however, can be extremely slow, preventing production of such 3D printed enclosures in large volumes. Apple's invention is to quicken the process so as to allow for mass production of parts and embodiments in a much more efficient and accurate manner.
In some examples, a part, such as a metallic or ceramic housing for an electronic device, can be formed using an additive manufacturing process which includes scanning multiple laser spots onto metallic or ceramic powder. The laser spots can be generated by multiple lasers that make up a laser array. The laser array can include multiple rows of laser heads.
In some examples, the laser array can include at least 10, 25, 50, 100 or even 1,000 lasers. The laser array can include a variety of lasers that can operate at multiple resolutions and wavelengths to form different laser spot sizes on the powder bed.
In some examples, a single laser of a laser array can generate a laser spot having a spot size of about 20 microns to about 200 microns. The lasers making up the laser array can operate at a collective output power of about 50 kilowatts to about 500 kilowatts.
In some examples, the individual lasers of the array can have a power of between about 5 watts and about 1000 watts, or more. In some examples, and as described herein, the laser array can include lasers having multiple different output powers and/or multiple different spot sizes.
In some examples, scanning the laser spots comprises moving the laser spots in a direction parallel to a common plane of the laser spots. The part is formed at a rate of greater than about 10,000 cm.sup.3/hour. Scanning the laser spots includes moving the powder bed relative to the laser spots.
The laser spots include two or more different spot sizes. The part includes a housing for an electronic device. Selectively sintering the powder includes simultaneously forming multiple melt pools in the powder. The powder includes at least one of steel, cobalt, chromium, aluminum, titanium, gold, platinum, silver, or ceramic. The powder includes particles having an average major dimension between about 10 microns and about 200 microns.
According to some examples, a 3D printer can include a powder bed, and a laser array including at least 100 lasers to selectively generate laser spots at desired locations on the powder bed, the desired locations extending across a major dimension of the powder bed, and at least one of the powder bed or the desired locations moveable relative to the other of the powder bed and the desired locations.
In some examples, the laser array includes fiber optics to direct radiation from the lasers to the desired locations. The laser array includes between 100 and 1,000 lasers. A laser can is independently translatable relative to the powder bed. The laser array includes multiple rows of laser heads.
Apple's patent illustrates the breakdown of devices for Apple Watch, iPhone, iPad and iMac. Below is their breakdown for an iMac.
For those that appreciate the art of the manufacturing process, check out Apple's patent application number 20220062998 for greater details.