New patents show how Liquidmetal could be combined with other metal alloys
Two patents recently published by the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) suggest Apple is still working on developing production processes for Liquidmetal. The two patents describe methods for casting bulk metallic glass (BMG) in different ways, including allowing multiple BMGs to surround other alloys, as well as techniques to melt BMG feedstock using horizontal cold crucible induction melting (CCIM) systems.
Use has been limited to hinges, SIM removal tool thus far
Apple has again renewed its exclusive license -- for the third time in as many years -- for rights to use Liquidmetal Technologies' patented and unique metal alloys, despite the fact that the company has appeared to do little with the technology. The metal alloy, known for its high strength-to-weight ratio, corrosion resistance and ability to be molded into complex or other shapes difficult to achieve with other metals, has been the object of speculation for years.
Liquidmetal alloys easier to extrude, mold than alternatives
Apple has again extended its contract with Liquidmetal Technologies, giving the Cupertino manufacturer exclusive rights to its alloys through February of 2015. All intellectual property acquired or developed by the Liquidmetal Technologies, and all intellectual property held by Crucible Intellectual Property, is now under the control of Apple for use only in its own devices.
Patent filed in 2012 shows means of generating mass amounts
Apple's exclusive licensing agreement of the Liquidmetal fabrication process and engineering staff in 2010 briefly sent ripples through the tech industry, until a lead executive revealed that it would take years and hundreds of millions of dollars before the material was ready for large-scale production. A patent awarded to Crucible Intellectual Property -- seemingly a joint venture between the two companies -- appears to be at least a portion of the method to generate large quantities of Liquidmetal, expected to be used in future iOS and other devices. Apple holds the exclusive license for the development and sale of the material in the consumer market.
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.
Wide use of the technology still years away
An SEC filing by Liquidmetal Technologies on Friday revealed that the company has extended its licensing of the technology to Apple for exploitation in consumer electronics for another two years beyond the original agreement, now in effect until 2014. Apple has made light use of the technology since 2010 on small parts such as the SIM card ejector pin in the iPhone 3GS, but continues to develop the innovation for commercial use.
Technology already in use on smaller parts
Dr. Ataka Peker, one of the inventors of the new class of metallic alloys known commercially as Liquidmetal and the founder of the company, says he believes Apple would have to spend "three to five years", and "$300 million to $500 million" to develop the alloys to the point where it could be used on a large scale, such as for an entire computing casing. He believes the company will continue to use Liquidmetal on a smaller scale until a "breakthrough product" comes along.
Claim has Apple and Samsung go exotic in material
A rumor surfacing Wednesday has both Apple and Samsung turning towards exotic materials for their next-generation smartphones. Apple would purportedly take advantage of its Liquidmetal patent deal, ETNews said, to get a shell that was both thin and light but resistant to external damage. The design was "expected" to show at the World Wide Developers Conference in June, though without an official WWDC date, this part would be more speculation than a claim of fact.
Tech could already be in next-gen iPad
Liquidmetal is in the process of shipping commercial parts to "several of its customers world-wide," according to a press release. The customers are unidentified, but Liquidmetal says that it in fact began delivering parts in December, and has more shipments scheduled into the future. Production capabilities should ramp up over coming months.
Ultimate purpose of tech remains unknown
Apple is hiring three new people to develop amorphous metal alloys, according to job listings. One position is for a manager, while the other two are engineering openings. AppleInsider notes that the jobs are described as "highly visible," involving composition, molding and forming of the alloys, as well as more mundane tasks like machining, grinding and finishing.
Tech used in SIM ejector pins
Apple has actually been using Liquidmetal's alloys for a couple of years, albeit in a limited capacity, says one of the technology's co-inventors, Atakan Peker. The early example is said to be an ejector pin for the iPhone 3G, used to remove the SIM card. One version of the accessory is noted to be unusually hard, with a unique color and feel. "That's my metal," says Peker. "I recognized it immediately. Take it from an expert, that's Liquidmetal.
Filing indicates minimum paid by Apple
On the same day it agreed to a patent licensing deal with Apple, Liquidmetal managed to pay off $10.9 million in debt, an 8-K filing with the SEC reveals. "The foregoing obligations were paid with proceeds from the previously announced strategic licensing transaction with Apple Inc.," one sentence in the document informs. Specifically, AppleInsider notes that the payback was split three ways: $8.2 million went towards outstanding senior secured convertible notes, while $2.4 million went to Ricardo Salas and Norden LLC, and $300,000 was paid to HANA Financial.
Company likely working on new shell designs
Apple has bought a "perpetual, worldwide, fully-paid, [and] exclusive" license to the patents of a company called Liquidmetal Technologies, a new SEC filing reveals. The company is based in California, and specializes in metal alloys with unusual chemical properties. The materials are said to have an "amorphous" atomic structure, as opposed to a conventional crystalline organization.