Report: Apple experiments with 3D printing for manufacturing its future smartwatches.

Apple is reportedly exploring the incorporation of 3D printers in the manufacturing process of steel chassis for certain upcoming smartwatches. This represents a significant departure from Apple’s traditional manufacturing methods and is aimed at potentially revolutionizing their production processes.

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According to a report from Bloomberg, this approach would eliminate the need for cutting large steel slabs into the desired shape for the product. The use of 3D printing could significantly shorten the time required for manufacturing these devices and also contribute to environmental conservation by reducing material usage. The sources providing this information have requested anonymity due to the confidential nature of the project.

This innovative approach has the potential to streamline Apple’s supply chain and could pave the way for broader transformations. If successfully implemented for Apple Watches, the company intends to extend this technology to other products in the future.

For those unfamiliar with the method, it involves a 3D printing technique called binder jetting to create the initial outline of the device, closely resembling its final size, a concept known as “near net shape” manufacturing. The printing is done using a powdered material, which then undergoes a sintering process involving heat and pressure to transform it into a material with properties akin to traditional steel. Following this, precise designs and cutouts are milled, mirroring the steps in the conventional manufacturing process.

Apple has reportedly been quietly advancing this method in collaboration with its suppliers for at least three years. In recent months, extensive testing of the process has been conducted on steel casings intended for the upcoming Apple Watch Series 9, set to be unveiled on September 12. According to Bloomberg, the forthcoming smartwatch will offer improved performance and introduce new case color options while retaining a largely consistent design.

This initiative represents one of the earliest instances of using binder jetting to scale up production for a high-volume metal component. The decision to trial this emerging technology with the Apple Watch aligns with Apple’s strategy of gradually introducing new materials and manufacturing processes into their products. Notably, steel frames were added to iPhones two years after their introduction in the original Apple Watch, and this year’s premium iPhones are expected to incorporate titanium, a year after it was first used in the Apple Watch Ultra.

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