Apple Inherited a 3D printing patent back in 2015 and today we're learning that Apple is testing the use of 3D printers for Apple Watch cases & more
Back on July 15, Patently Apple posted a report titled "New Production Trend: The 2023 Apple Watch Ultra will adopt more advanced 3D printing technology for mechanical parts." The report was based on Ming-Chi Kuo research notes indicating that Apple is actively adopting 3D printing technology, and it’s expected that some of the titanium mechanical parts of the 2H23 new Apple Watch Ultra will be made by 3D printing.
Today, a new Bloomberg report both repeats and expands on the original news back in July. Bloomberg claims that Apple "is testing the use of 3D printers to produce the steel chassis used by some of its upcoming smartwatches, according to people with knowledge of the matter, heralding a major change to how the company manufactures products.
The technique would obviate the need to cut large slabs of metal into the product’s shape. That would reduce the time it takes to build devices while also helping the environment by using less material, according to the people, who asked not to be identified because the plan is private.
The new approach has the potential to streamline Apple’s supply chain and kick off a broader shift. If the work with Apple Watches goes to plan, the tech giant will look to expand the process to more products over the next several years, the people said. A spokeswoman for the Cupertino, California-based company declined to comment.
The new technique uses a type of 3D printing called binder jetting (also here) to create the device’s general outline at close to its actual size, or what is known in manufacturing as the “near net shape.” The print is made with a powdered substance, which afterward goes through a process called sintering. That uses heat and pressure to squeeze the material into what feels like traditional steel. The exact design and cutouts are then milled like in the previous process.
There’s no guarantee the first consumer shipments of the new steel Apple Watches will be built with the revamped manufacturing technique, but the test run suggests that the company is serious about the approach.
Apple also plans to apply the process to its titanium Ultra watch, but such a shift isn’t planned until 2024. For more details, read the full BNN Bloomberg report.
For the record, Apple acquired Metaio back in 2015 for their advanced work on AR Glasses and Thermal Touch. One of the patents that Apple inherited related to an advanced 3D printer system that was granted to Apple back in 2017. While the link to the patent in our report is broken, due to USPTO's new January 2023 website redesign, you could still review the patent here. Whether this patent was the genesis of Apple's work on 3D printing is unknown at this time.