Many companies sell carbon fiber covers
for current Apple products.
Apple may be working on products made from carbon fiber, according to sources close to suppliers in Asia, Macotakara reported Wednesday [Google Translation]. The strong yet ultra-light material would allow the Cupertino company to continue its quest to reduce the weight and thickness of future devices.
Macotakara’s source claims that Apple and Foxconn representatives recently contacted a Japanese company to inquire about a production run of carbon fiber scheduled for next March. Officially, the Apple and Foxconn representatives sought only a “sample” but, according to the source, the requested quantity of carbon fiber was far too large to be considered as such.
Macotakara further points to a job posting for Apple’s Japanese operations, which seeks an engineer to “develop products using carbon material.”
Industry rumors suggest that Apple has been interested in constructing products with carbon fiber bodies since the launch of the original MacBook Air in early 2008, and patent filings indicate that the company has been seriously examining the idea since at least 2010.
Carbon fiber has long been valued for its unique properties; it has five times the strength, twice the stiffness, and about one-third the weight of equivalently sized steel. The material is formed from thin strands of carbon which are twisted and woven together into the desired shape. Due to these properties, carbon fiber has become common in high end automobiles, aircraft, bicycles, and even sporting equipment.
One concern associated with carbon fiber, a concern that may be responsible for Apple’s reluctance to thus far use the material, is its relative lack of recyclability compared to the materials currently common to Apple products: aluminum and glass. Advancements in carbon fiber recycling are showing progress, however, and Apple may be willing to sacrifice environmental ratings for products that are thinner, stronger, and lighter, something hinted at by Apple’s aborted attempt this summer to cease seeking EPEAT certification for its Macintosh line.
Should Apple eventually pursue products designed with carbon fiber, the company will not be flying blind. Apple hired Kevin Kenney as a Senior Composites Engineer in April 2011. Mr. Kenney brings extensive experience to the company from his previous position at Kestrel Bicycles, which created the first carbon fiber bicycle frame design.
Teaser graphic via HiTechUSA.