Apple Inc. is exploring the possibility to use 3D printers for crafting the steel chassis employed in certain forthcoming smartwatches, as reported by Bloomberg. This marks a significant shift in the company’s manufacturing processes.
As per the report, the method would eliminate the necessity of cutting large metal slabs into the product’s desired shape. This would result in a shorter device manufacturing timeframe and contribute to environmental conservation through reduced material usage, as per the sources who requested anonymity due to the confidential nature of the plan.
This innovative approach holds the potential to optimize Apple’s supply chain and initiate a wider transformation. If the implementation with Apple Watches proceeds as intended, the technology company aims to extend this process to additional products in the coming years, adds the report.
Those who do not know, the method employs a 3D printing method known as binder jetting to produce the device’s initial outline, closely resembling its actual size, a manufacturing concept referred to as “near net shape.” The printing is executed using a powdered material, which subsequently undergoes a sintering process involving heat and pressure to transform it into a material with the tactile properties of conventional steel. Following this, the precise design and cutouts are milled, mirroring the steps in the previous manufacturing process.
Apple, in collaboration with its suppliers, has been discreetly advancing this method for a minimum of three years. During the recent months, rigorous testing of the process has been conducted on steel casings intended for the upcoming Apple Watch Series 9, scheduled for unveiling on September 12. It has been reported by Bloomberg that the forthcoming smartwatch will feature enhanced performance and introduce new case color options, while maintaining a largely consistent design.
This endeavor represents one of the initial instances of employing binder jetting to scale up the production of a high-volume metal component. The decision to employ the Apple Watch as a trial platform for this emerging technology follows a consistent trend within the company. Notably, Apple introduced steel frames to the iPhone two years after their introduction in the original Apple Watch. Additionally, this year’s premium iPhones are set to incorporate titanium, a year after the material’s debut in the Apple Watch Ultra.
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