Apple Inc. is at the forefront of product innovation, and in a new move, the tech giant is testing the use of 3D printers for the upcoming Apple Watch Series 9. With this initiative, Apple aims to reinvent how it manufactures products, especially the steel chassis utilized in some of its smartwatches. Here’s what’s happening:
- Apple will begin its 3D printing venture with select models of the Apple Watch Series 9, using it as a test run before broadening the application.
- The method removes the necessity to carve out large metal pieces, potentially speeding up product assembly and reducing the environmental impact.
- Notably, not all Apple Watch Series 9 models will experience this new manufacturing shift. The primary focus is on stainless steel variants, which form a minor segment of the watch collection.
- Supply chain expert Ming-Chi Kuo previously highlighted numerous companies contributing to this 3D printing effort, suggesting the Apple Watch Ultra 2 could soon benefit from this technological advancement. However, this transition for the Ultra model might be postponed until next year.
- The iPhone 15 event on September 12 will also reveal the new Apple Watch Series 9 and Ultra 2 models.
Delving Deep into the 3D Printing Process
Binder jetting is the technical term for the 3D printing technique Apple is exploring:
- The primary component is a powdered substance, which subsequently undergoes sintering—a process using heat and pressure to mold the material into a substance resembling conventional steel.
- Post-printing, the precise design, and cutouts are crafted in a manner similar to the previous method.
- The long-term vision includes extending this process to more products over the coming years if the initial phases proceed as planned.
Environmental and Strategic Impact
Apple’s inclination toward 3D printing is fueled by more than just innovation. The move showcases the company’s commitment to sustainability:
- 3D printing considerably reduces material wastage, aligning with Apple’s eco-friendly initiatives.
- As of 2021, Apple disclosed that 59% of the aluminum in its products originated from recycled sources. Many of these products even boast a 100% recycled aluminum enclosure.
- In another significant eco-strategic move, Apple is contemplating ditching leather for its phone cases, opting for more sustainable alternatives.
Market Response and Future Prospects
The buzz around Apple’s 3D printing aspirations has led to a surge in shares of 3D printing companies. 3D Systems Corp. witnessed a 10% increase, while Stratasys Ltd. saw a 6.9% hike. Although these figures experienced some fluctuation later, Apple’s stock rose by 1.8% to $187.46. However, this is not a mere market trend; it’s a calculated shift:
- Behind the scenes, Apple and its suppliers have dedicated three years to mastering this technique. The Apple Watch Series 9 is undergoing tests with steel cases produced through this method.
- While the initial consumer shipments of the new Apple Watches might not fully adopt this innovative technique, its introduction indicates Apple’s serious consideration of this approach.
- The focus currently remains on the Apple Watch, but plans to employ the process on the titanium Ultra watch are in the pipeline, with a tentative implementation year of 2024.
Apple’s History of Innovation
Apple has a track record of pioneering technological advancements. For instance, steel frames were introduced to iPhones two years post their debut on the original Apple Watch. The upcoming high-end iPhones are set to feature titanium, a year after its introduction to the Apple Watch Ultra. To get an in-depth understanding of Apple’s tryst with 3D printing, read the comprehensive report on Bloomberg’s official site here.