Apple's iWatch Suffering
3rd Jan, 2014
In a report on DigiTimes, an oft-accurate Taiwanese source for
technology rumors, Apple and several other manufacturers are
experiencing low yield rates in the production of components for their
respective smart watches. This is a pretty big rumor, considering Apple
hasn't even announced the existence of their smart watch yet.
The problems reportedly stem from issues in the finishing of metal
injection molded (MIM) parts, and it's a particularly costly problem
given that the finishing of MIM parts is the final stage for these
components prior to product assembly. Failure at this stage means
scrapping the entire part, and eating all the ingredient and labor costs
up to that point.
MIM is a relatively new manufacturing process for the creation of metal
components. It allows for very small metal parts to be constructed with
CNC-level precision, but in sizes too small to be made by traditional
CNC mills. Metal Injection Molding combines metal powder with wax and
plastic powders, then heats, forms, and binds the part together in
traditional plastic injection molding machines and dies. Once the part
is formed in the injection molded die, they are "sintered", or
heat-treated, in an oven to solidify the metal parts at temperatures not
possible in the plastic injection molding equipment.
Finishes for pieces made through MIM are no different than larger,
traditionally formed metal pieces. The items can be smoothed, brushed,
blasted, painted, or plated, but the processes are more delicate due to
the size of the components and the thickness of the metal walls.
MIM-manufactured parts are typically used as internal components, so
finishing hasn't been a concern. Apple, with its focus on innovation and
quality in the industrial design of its products, has been instrumental
in MIM gaining popularity in exterior component manufacturing due to its
ability to create unique and complex shapes on small pieces.