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Apple allegedly experiments with 3D printer for crafting steel Apple Watch models

Last month, our team at Phones Canada reported on TF International’s analyst Ming-Chi Kuo’s claim that Apple was considering using 3D printers to create parts for the Apple Watch Ultra as a cost-saving and environmentally friendly measure. Now, Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman has revealed that Apple is looking into using this same technology to build the chassis for its non-Ultra smartwatch models as well. According to Gurman’s sources who are familiar with the matter, Apple aims to utilize 3D printers to streamline production, reduce material usage, and ultimately create a more sustainable manufacturing process.

By leveraging 3D printing technology, Apple can eliminate the labor-intensive process of cutting through metal slabs to build watch parts. This not only saves time but also reduces the amount of material needed, thereby benefiting the environment. As the plan is still confidential and yet to be publicly announced, the sources requested anonymity.

One exciting aspect of Apple’s exploration into 3D printing is the potential expansion of this technology to other devices if successful. Should the company successfully produce Apple Watch parts using 3D printers, it plans to explore whether the same approach can be applied to other Apple devices.

Regarding the implementation of 3D printing into Apple Watch production, the process involves forging small material blocks close to the required size and utilizing a computer numerical control (CNC) machine to shape and create necessary design elements and button holes. With a 3D printer, a technique known as binder jetting is used to create a preliminary structure of the device, almost matching its actual size. This prototype is made using a powder-like substance that, when subjected to heat and pressure, takes on a steel-like feel. The final step involves milling the exact designs and cutouts, much like the traditional manufacturing process.

According to Bloomberg’s report, Apple and its suppliers have been diligently working on this technique for three years. They have been testing the process to manufacture steel cases for the upcoming Apple Watch Series 9, which is set to be unveiled on September 12th, alongside the second-generation Apple Watch Ultra and the iPhone 15 series.

However, it remains uncertain whether the initial shipments of Apple Watch Series 9 steel devices this year will feature casings made using 3D printing technology. Apple plans to utilize the 3D printer to aid in the production of its titanium Apple Watch Ultra models, but this is not expected to happen until 2024.

Due to the novelty of this technology, Apple intends to use it primarily for lower volume products. Since most Apple Watch models currently feature aluminum cases instead of stainless steel, the focus is on testing the 3D printer for steel casings. Aluminum is currently not compatible with this technology, so Apple is likely to use materials such as steel and titanium, which can work seamlessly with 3D printing, for its devices.

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