According to Apple, modern 3D printing systems are able to work with metals Bloomberg, is experimenting with them in the field of making case parts for some of its future smartwatch models. Unlike metal cutting, this approach allows you to reduce the time it takes to produce the part and reduce material consumption.
As a source familiar with Apple’s plans explains, the company will expand the use of such manufacturing methods to other product categories over time if the approach of using 3D printers to create cases for smartwatches pays off. About 10% of watches made by Apple subcontractors now feature stainless steel cases. The original workpiece is obtained by forging, and then a numerical control machine tool cuts out a product of the required configuration from a piece of metal, the size of which is close to the finished case.
An alternative technology makes it possible to create a metal blank from powdered raw materials, closer in shape and size to the final contour of the case, which is then sintered at high temperature and pressure to achieve the required strength properties. The machining of the piece is done in the last phase, but unlike the traditional technical process, it requires less time and leaves less waste.
As already mentioned, Apple and its partners have been working on this production technology for about three years. As an experiment, they’ve been testing the steel cases of the Watch Series 9 watches, due to launch in mid-September, with the new technology for the past few months. So far, there is no certainty that commercial copies of these watches will be fitted with cases made using a new process. By 2024, Apple expects to use a new titanium manufacturing method for Ultra watches.
The initial cost of upgrading production to new technologies will be high, but over time it will allow you to save raw materials. Now the cost of manufacturing cases of both technologies is comparable. Most of the watches produced by the company are equipped with aluminum cases, for their production the use of three-dimensional printers is not yet planned. By debugging the new method on small products, Apple can scale it to more mass products, including smartphones.