Apple invents 3D printer for space-age Liquidmetal rapid prototypes


Space-age iPhone, coming soon to a 3D printer near you.
Photo: Ste Smith/Cult of Mac

On its journey to product perfection, Apple is well-known for its endless prototyping of the next iPhone, iMac or Apple Watch.

Now the company may add ultra-tough metal alloy Liquidmetal to the list of materials it can use to create these rapid prototypes, thanks to a cutting-edge 3D printer designed for the job.

A futuristic 3D printer, or a smoothie-maker for Jony Ive's lunch? You decide.
Futuristic 3D printer or smoothie maker for Jony Ive’s lunch? You decide.
Photo: USPTO/Apple

Apple’s invention, detailed in a patent application filed in 2014 but just published today, would create a 3D mold using a layer-by-layer construction process with Liquidmetal.

Apple signed an exclusive agreement to use Liquidmetal way back in August 2010. The amorphous space-age alloy, which possesses more than twice the strength of high-performance titanium, has been described by NASA as likely to redefine material science in the 21st century “in the same way that the inventions of steel in the 1800s and plastic in the 1900s sparked revolutions for industry.”

However, despite experts insisting ever since then that Liquidmetal was likely to be used as part of the next iPad or iPhone, almost six years down the line we’re no closer to seeing the material pop up in an Apple device. The company has, however, continued to investigate applications relating to everything from antennas to fuel cells.

As you’d expect, the processability of amorphous alloys presents quite a challenge. But a 3D printer able to help Apple quickly and easily make rapid prototypes for a variety of different Liquidmetal concepts surely increases our chances of finally getting that futuristic scratch-proof iPhone or iPad we’ve been dreaming of!

You can check out the rest of Apple’s patent application here.

Source: U.S. Patent and Trademark Office

Via: Patently Apple

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  • disqus_7kQDAtsGsH

    hate to get nit-picky but your date for the invention of steel is off by about 4ka, it’s closer to 1800 bc rather than 1800 ad