Apple will soon make test parts on a newly developed amorphous metal injection molding machine located in Korea, says Leander Kahney, the editor and publisher of Cult of Mac, and author of Inside Steve’s Brain. The machine was commissioned by Liquidmetal Technologies of Rancho Santa Margarita, CA, which recently granted Apple a perpetual, worldwide, fully-paid exclusive license to commercialize its intellectual property in the field of consumer electronic products in exchange for a license fee.
Quoting a Liquidmetal investor, Kahney said the machine was built by the Swiss-based Bühler AG, which makes die casting and other equipment.
According to Liquidmetal, amorphous metals - as opposed to crystalline metals-can be injection molded, creating net shape parts that would be more cost-effective than cast parts. The amorphous metals also have a unique property profile, lending themselves to use as housings for mobile phone and other consumer electronics.
Injection molding machines are already used to produce magnesium parts in a process called thixomolding. The magnesium used, however, is crystalline. Amorphous structure gives the alloys unique electrical and mechanical properties. The metals used in the Liquidmetal process are varied, but generally include titanium, and provide significant strength in addition to light weight.
Adaptions to the injection molding machine that are required to allow use of amorphous metals are not clear because Buhler, Apple, and Liquidmetal all declined to comment. Clearly, the machine would have to allow control of materials with a higher heat profile than plastics and provide special equipment and controls for a very careful cooling of amorphous metals, a key to keeping the metals from becoming as brittle as glass. And as in the thixomolding process, components would have to be toughened to deal with the abrasiveness of metals.