Apple plans to simplify the production of the Apple Watch while making it more sustainable. New 3D printing processes will be used, reports Bloomberg journalist Mark Gurman in his weekend newsletter. The technology is intended to eliminate the residual amounts of metal that are produced by the CNC milling processes currently used and which currently always have to be recycled.
No more large sheets of material
According to Gurman, the iPhone manufacturer is explicitly testing the use of 3D printers for the production of device casings. This could be “one of the most significant changes to Apple’s supply chain in years,” he claims, citing informed sources. The system saves a “large percentage of metal.” Apple therefore wants to bring stainless steel or titanium directly into the desired shape instead of shredding “huge slabs of material”.
According to the report, an attempt will be made this year to produce at least parts of the steel version of the Series 9, which is expected in September, in this way. In 2024, the process will be expanded to the Apple Watch Ultra made of titanium. “One day the process could even be applied to iPhones and iPads,” Gurman continues.
Powdering and sintering
The new process is also intended to reduce manufacturing times for Apple Watch cases. It was said that the 3D printing process is faster than a CNC milling machine. So far, Apple has taken a more conventional manufacturing approach for its stainless steel watches, which make up about 10 percent of the entire product line. In a forging process, blocks of material are first formed into smaller blocks that roughly correspond to the size of the housing. A CNC milling machine is then used.
The 3D printing process is said to be so-called binder jetting, in which the housing is built almost entirely in one machine. A metal powder is sintered – i.e. placed under heat and pressure. The end result should be an Apple Watch case that feels like traditional steel. Holes and other elements are then milled out, as is already known from CNC processes. The process is faster and produces little material to recycle.
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