San Diego – A series of five patents filed on November 21st reveal Apple’s potential plans to include liquidmetal in its products. Though the five patents leave it somewhat difficult to ascertain exactly what type of product would come out of the claims, two of the filings clearly have to do with 3-D printing methods for electronic devices. The applications do not come as a shock to Apple enthusiasts, who were gripped by a 2012 rumor that the new iPhone might utilize liquidmetal technology. While that rumor did not manifest in the iPhone 5s, it is now a fact that Apple is at least heavily considering implementing the material in future products.
Created in the early 2000s by a research team at the California Institute of Technology, liquidmetal is a unique form of amorphous metal alloy. It is similar to plastic in that it cools fast and is very strong, with more than double the strength of titanium alloy. Adding to its appeal, despite its durability, liquidmetal is flexible, lending it a unique ability to be molded into very thin shapes while remaining sturdy.
The Silicon Valley tech producer known for its simplistic designs and user friendly devices turned heads in 2010 when it signed a contact with California-based Liquidmetal Technologies. Since then, speculation has run high that Apple would be the first to create a modern-looking smartphone made out of liquidmetal. Given that liquidmetal is more lightweight and less expensive than the metal currently used to make iPhones, it is an enticing possibility.
According to the actual patent filings, liquidmetal might be used to create new Apple products through 3-D printing and injection molding methods, which could be a cheaper alternative to the current practice of creating prototypes and using machining processes to stamp out finished products. The first filing is entitled “Layer-by-Layer Construction with Bulk Metallic Glasses” and seems to provide the most insight into the creation of new products using liquid metal. The other four, respectively titled “Layer-by-Layer Construction with Bulk Metallic Glasses”, “Amorphous Alloy Component or Feedstock and Methods of Making the Same”, “Bulk Metallic Glass Feedback with Dissimilar Sheath” and “Manipulating Surface Topology of BMG Feedstock” are much more technical and seem to focus on more specialized applications of the liquidmetal technology.