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Apple Reveals Fanatical Attention to Product Details in Processes for the Milanese Watch Band and Beyond

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In this particular patent report we're not going to show you a new device but rather a few inventions that will show you the details behind varying processes of making a product that most of us never think about. Apple is a premium device maker and so it's only appropriate that once in a while we illustrate the depths that they'll go to get a product just right; the depths of refinement so that it has just the right finish. The first patent covers the making of the Milanese Mesh Apple Watch band. Who knew that Apple had an in-house watch manufacturing design engineer manager by the name of Justin Sawyer, who oversees a team of engineers working on manufacturing process development of Apple Watch enclosure parts (all sizes/materials) and the Milanese Mesh watch-bands? The team's goal is to develop and scale world class manufacturing processes to meet strict design requirements. The second patent herein points to Apple's invention titled "Processes to reduce interfacial enrichment of alloying elements under anodic oxide films and improve anodized appearance of heat treatable alloys." Okay, it's about making the metal finishes on MacBooks, the iPad and iPhone look and feel like a million bucks so as to lure customers to touch a product in an Apple Store and instantly fall in love with it.


Apple's Patent Background


A Milanese mesh structure (sometimes called a "carpet"), as illustrated for example in FIG. 1A below, is a decorative mesh typically made from multiple metallic spiral wires threaded together. The wire utilized in forming the spirals, typically has a circular cross-section. The mesh carpet is sometimes used to make necklaces, bracelets, or other decorative accessories.


Typically, a spool containing a straight wire material is set into a machine, The machine runs the wire material into a mandrel apparatus that forms the wire material into a spiral. The spiral is then forced forward and cut off at a certain length. After this, the machine makes the next spiral. This new spiral is then threaded into an already existing cutoff spiral. Once threaded the machine cuts off the new spiral. This process is continually repeated until a mesh carpet is formed.


Once the mesh carpet is formed, it is cut into various shapes depending on the end product. Typically, the product is formed of relatively short pieces of mesh. The pieces of mesh may be manually bound into a long strip utilizing another spiral of equal strength to join the discrete pieces together. The edges may then be processed to remove sharp and uneven coil ends. In this form the mesh is unstable as the individual coils can be removed. As such, the material may be locked so that the individual coils movement is significantly limited and the mesh carpet is secure. The locking is accomplished by pressing the strip flat and thus deforming the shape of the round coils.


Once locked, the mesh may be further processed to provide flexibility. The mesh may pass through a machine with cylinders that oscillate or otherwise move up and down, thereby forcing the mesh strip to bend back and forth. This treatment makes the mesh flexible but also often leaves visible lines in the mesh from contact with the internal cylinders of the machine.


Other processing steps may be used to improve the overall aesthetics of the mesh. For example, a folding clasp and/or end pieces may be formed by stamping the ends. The mesh strips may also undergo a polishing to enhance their appearance.


Typical manufacturing process for Milanese mesh devices do not allow mesh carpets that are created to be flexible without the crimping of the mesh and or introduction of the intervening binding and locking coils discussed above. Thus, there is a need for a improved method for forming a Milanese mesh product.


Apple's Invention: Milanese Mesh Rolling


Apple's invention generally covers apparatuses and methods for forming a flexible mesh carpet. The mesh carpet may be made flexible in a variety of ways. For example, the coils of the mesh carpet may be preformed to have a particular cross-section in order to manufacture a flexible mesh carpet. In another example, the mesh carpet may be processed after manufacture in order to improve the flexibility. Additionally the various examples may be combined to achieve greater flexibility, e.g. a mesh carpet made from preformed coils may undergo additional processing to further improve the flexibility. In the various embodiments and examples the mesh carpet may be a Milanese mesh carpet.


In one embodiment, a flexible mesh carpet may include a first wire coil. The first wire which makes up the coil may have a first surface and a second surface which oppose one another. The first surface and the second surface may be connected by surfaces that substantially form partial arcs (e.g. of a circle or ellipsis). The mesh carpet may also include a second wire coil threaded into the first wire coil. One of the surfaces from the first wire coil may contact a surface on the second wire coil. The first wire coil and the second wire coil may form two rows of the mesh carpet. In one example, the first surface and the second surface in the first wire coil may be opposing flat surfaces positioned at an acute angle from one another. Alternatively they may be positioned at an obtuse angle from one another. In another example, the first surface and the second surface may be concave surfaces. The concave surfaces may have a profile that approximately matches the second wire coil surface. In another example, the wire may have a triangular cross-section. In such and example, the first surface and the second surface may be opposing flat surfaces positioned at an angle to one another connected by another flat surface.


In another embodiment, the flexibility of a mesh carpet may be improved by wrapping the mesh carpet around a first mandrel having a circumference smaller than natural mesh flexibility circumference of the mesh carpet. The first end of the mesh carpet may be constrained in a fixed or moveable restraint. The second end of the mesh carpet may be constrained in a movable restraint. The mesh carpet may then be moved back and forth around the first mandrel forming a smaller mesh flexibility circumference without the mesh carpet being impacted by the first mandrel or additional mandrels, The finishing process may include continuously rolling the Milanese mesh around or against the mandrel such that the Milanese mesh carpet forms a smaller loop around the mandrel as the flexibility of the Milanese mesh product improves.


The finishing process may include compressing the mesh carpet between two restraining plates such that the restraining plates contact the mesh carpet decreasing the bend radius and thereby improving the flexibility of the mesh carpet. Another embodiment may take the form of utilizing a coil with a specific wire cross-section and providing a secondary finishing process to the mesh carpet. The mesh carpet may be moved to a smaller mandrel after a substantial portion of the mesh carpet has moved around the first mandrel.




Apple's patent FIG. 1A illustrated above shows us an example of a prior art strip of Milanese mesh; FIG. 2A shows an example of an isometric view of Milanese mesh wire coil with flat surfaces; FIG. 8 noted below is a schematic view of an example of a system for improving the flexibility of a mesh carpet; FIG. 12 is a flow chart illustrating an example method of improving the flexibility in a mesh carpet utilizing offset mandrels.


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Apple patent application 20160236263 was filed in Q1 2016, with references made back to Q3 2013. Considering that this is a patent application, the timing of such a product to market is unknown at this time.


Apple's Invention: Anodizing Systems and Methods


Apple's patent generally relates to anodizing systems and methods. In particular, systems and methods for improving the cosmetics and enhancing physical characteristics of anodic oxide films formed on metal alloy substrates are described.


Anodizing is a method of providing an anodic oxide layer or coating on a metal substrate, often used in industry to provide a protective and sometimes cosmetically appealing coating to metal parts. During an anodizing process, a portion of the metal substrate is converted to a metal oxide, thereby forming the anodic oxide layer or anodic oxide coating.


Unfortunately, in some cases where certain metal alloy substrates are used, the anodic oxide coating can peel, chip or otherwise delaminate from their metal substrates when exposed to scratching or scraping forces during normal use of the part, or even during certain manufacturing operations such as drilling or machining which might be performed after anodizing.


In addition to making the anodic oxide coating more susceptible to delamination, the interfacial enrichment of alloying elements can contribute to the discoloration of the anodic oxide coating, which can detract from the aesthetic appeal of the part.


Apple's detailed patent filing describes the various stages of processes to eliminate the problems of coatings delaminating and discoloring over time and more. To view the patent filing in depth, click here.


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Apple's patent FIG. 4 shows a schematic view of a system configured to apply localized energy to a surface of a part as part of a diffusion promoting process; FIG. 5 shows a schematic view of liquid heating system for performing a diffusion promoting process on a part.


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