updated 09:20 am EDT, Tue May 14, 2013
Mechanical engineer listing requires skill associated with glass alloy
A job listing from Apple describing the need for a mechanical engineer with a wide knowledge of materials and manufacturing processes -- and some specific experience in skills required for dealing with the bulk-metallic glass alloy known as Liquidmetal -- has fuelled speculation that Apple's investment in the technology may be finally bearing more fruit. The technology is already used for specialized parts such as the SIM card ejector pin in older iPhone models, but very little has been seen of it thus far.
Apple signed up the Liquidmetal developer to an exclusive license for exploitation of the technology in consumer electronics back in 2010, and renewed the license in 2012 to extend it for another two years. Liquidmetal is a new class of amorphous alloy with what the company describes as "twice of the strength of titanium," combining some of the best qualities of other materials. Despite being incredibly strong like metal, and "brittle" like glass when stressed beyond its tolerances, Liquidmetal is highly moldable and injectable like plastic -- meaning engineers can make highly-customized parts with great precision and yet great strength.
The main advantage of Liquidmetal is that because it is so strong, it can be cast into far more complex shapes. Given Apple's strong interest in the technology, many have speculated that the company would use the alloy to make super-strong casings for things like iPhones or MacBooks -- but in fact the advantage of Liquidmetal lies more in smaller parts that can now be more intricate, creating opportunities for previously-impossible designs. Despite having a license, Apple has been very quiet about its plans for the alloy and has used it very sparingly thus far.
The developer, Liquidmetal Technologies, has cautioned that the ability of the alloy to make large objects such as an iPad casing is still several years away, but rumors have persisted for years that each subsequent next iPhone or other gadget would make greater use of the technology. The job listing, which called for "a broad understanding of materials and manufacturing process such as joining (press lamination, gluing, heat staking)," also calls for particular skills such as CNC milling and turning, injection molding, stamping, MIM, die casting, extrusion and sheet forming -- all required for working with Liquidmetal.
The job also requires skills in plastics and injection molding, and experience with mechanical fabricated parts, jigs, fixtures and other such parts. While it is still unlikely that Apple can yet use the technology for whole objects, the listing suggests that Apple may be nearly ready to bring the intriguing alloy out of the shadows.