Apple Tests 3D Printing for Upcoming Apple Watch Parts: Report
Apple is exploring a significant change in its manufacturing process by testing the use of 3D printers to produce steel chassis for its upcoming smartwatches, according to sources familiar with the matter, reports Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman.
This new approach aims to streamline production and reduce environmental impact by using less material. Traditionally, Apple has relied on a forging process to create its stainless-steel watches, which make up about 10% of the product line.
The new technique employs a form of 3D printing known as “binder jetting” to create the device’s general outline. This process eliminates the need to cut large slabs of metal, thereby saving time and material.
The 3D printing approach aligns with Apple’s sustainability goals, as it only uses the approximate amount of metal necessary to create the device enclosures.
Apple is also planning to replace leather with new materials in some of its iPhone cases and other accessories as part of its move toward sustainability, say unnamed sources.
The transition to 3D-printed watch cases has been an expensive test for Apple and its suppliers. However, the cost per watch case using the new process is currently in line with that of the previous method, and it is expected to potentially lower costs over time, says Bloomberg.
The 3D printing initiative is being spearheaded by Apple’s manufacturing design team, overseen by company vice president Rob York and reporting to operations head Sabih Khan.
While the work is still in its early stages, Apple has been quietly developing this technique for at least three years and has recently been testing it with steel cases for the Apple Watch Series 9, set to be unveiled on September 12. There’s no guarantee that the first consumer shipments of the new steel Apple Watches will use this manufacturing technique, but the test run suggests the company is serious about adopting it.
Apple usually will trickle down its technologies to other products, even when it comes to manufacturing. It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out. Keep an eye out for those iFixit teardowns, folks.