Liquidmetal concept could enable Apple to manufacture devices layer by layer

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Making use of its ties with Liquidmetal Technologies, Apple on Tuesday won a U.S. patent on a way of manufacturing products layer-by-layer using bulk-solidifying amorphous alloys, also known as bulk metalic glasses.

The technology lets alloys be solidified and cooled at slow rates and keep an amorphous and non-crystalline state at room temperature. The patent notes that if cooling doesn't happen quickly enough, crystals can form that undo the benefits of the amorphous state of the process.

The described method would involve manufacturing with molten bulk metallic glass in a constant stream or discrete droplets, which can be applied in different positions on a product and repeatedly, layer-over-layer.

The patent is assigned to Apple and a Liquidmetal subsidiary, Crucible Intellectual Property. Three of the credited inventors — Christopher D. Prest, Joseph C. Poole, and Theodore Andrew Waniuk — work with Apple, while Joseph Stevick is with Liquidmetal. Waniuk was previously with Liquidmetal as well.

Apple has a patent licensing agreement with Liquidmetal, but it's unclear if the technology has been used for anything beyond SIM card tray pins. It could be in some internal components, and the company has also been developing mass manufacturing techniques to bring costs down.