Apple hires carbon fiber specialist

Even the most ardent Apple critics have to admit that the aluminum unibody enclosures that encase MacBook Pro laptops are all kinds of sexy. Industrial design has long been a strong suit of the Mac maker, and it looks like the future could hold less metal and more woven carbon. Kevin Kenney, former president of carbon fiber bicycle specialist Kestrel, is now a "senior composites engineer at Apple," according to his LinkedIn profile.

Engadget notes that Kenney has worked with Apple before. Back in 2010, Kenney and Apple filed for a patent on carbon-reinforced housings for electronics devices.

Carbon fiber has already been used by at least a couple of notebook makers—Acer with the Ferrari series and VoodooPC with it Envy laptops—so Apple wouldn’t be the first to encase electronics with a weave. The material certainly has an attractive strength-to-weight ratio. Carbon fiber can also be molded into a variety of shapes, and the weave itself creates an attractive-looking texture. Even more good news: the clear coats on my carbon bike wheels and kayak paddle appear to be impervious to fingerprints and smudges.

Comments closed
    • trackerben
    • 9 years ago

    Am here at apple san Francisco and I am hearing comments about the new iPads being still too heavy. Wouldn’t be surprised if the material is being purposed for lighter future tablets and not just MacBooks

    • Chrispy_
    • 9 years ago

    I’m just waiting for Apple to patent carbon fibre.They invented it, right?

    </dig at apple’s creative use of the word ‘original’ when applying for patents>
    </dig at idiocy of the US patent system>

    • ShadowTiger
    • 9 years ago

    I wish they would spend less time on the case and more time on the battery. The battery is the heaviest part of the notebook and it is the biggest constraint for the hardware.

      • internetsandman
      • 9 years ago

      Assuming the elimination of the optical drive as likely or even imminent, that will give ample room for extra hardware, either batteries, or extra hard drive space, or both, if the engineers are crafty enough

    • Turd-Monkey
    • 9 years ago

    On the plus side there will be fewer “Thinkpads are ugly” comments on relevant Engadget stories.

    • adam1378
    • 9 years ago

    [url<]http://amzn.to/eB4BwV[/url<] How about a CF wallet?

      • bimmerlovere39
      • 9 years ago

      Hey, I have one of those! Pretty nice wallet, actually.

      • Meadows
      • 9 years ago

      The product features mentions carbon fiber 3 times, and “brand new” twice. This redundance is suspicious redundance, suspicious.

        • ludi
        • 9 years ago

        I represent the Department of Redundancy Department, and I’m suing your for brand and trade infringement.

    • indeego
    • 9 years ago

    Hopefully he figures out a way to make their logo bigger and more glowy on every product. Wouldn’t want to use an Apple product without a large logo pulsating all over it.

      • 5150
      • 9 years ago

      We all know how much you love large, pulsating things.

    • potatochobit
    • 9 years ago

    carbon fiber is olde hat
    I have it all over my car already

      • Squeazle
      • 9 years ago

      The trick is to make the car out of it instead of taping it on.

        • Meadows
        • 9 years ago

        Don’t mind potato guy, he’s usually far out there and even if on topic, normally his train of thought is rather disconnected, if present.

          • Palek
          • 9 years ago

          The phrase “train of thought” doesn’t really apply then, eh.

            • Meadows
            • 9 years ago

            A disconnected train is still a train, it’s just hazardous on the rails.

            • internetsandman
            • 9 years ago

            This all depends; was the train stationary or in motion when the disconnect happened? If it was stationary, it’s not so much a train as a single engine.

            • TaBoVilla
            • 9 years ago

            nah, it could also mean the train was electric, and “disconnected” actually meant disconnected from the power grid, which in turn would make the engine useless even though it would still be present.. . I guess. =P

      • axeman
      • 9 years ago

      I heard it adds at least 5 more horsepower than “R Type” stickers.

    • Welch
    • 9 years ago

    Thats right, lets make it look even “Cooler”, charge more because of it, but not address the fact that the SAME FREAKING HARDWARE used in our Mac Books cost 1/3rd that in a PC. Great Job Apple, proving the world really is filled with idiots with more money than sense!

      • cynan
      • 9 years ago

      Carbon fiber would not necessarily cost more than the unibody aluminum, at least in the long term. Carbon fiber itself is actually relatively inexpensive compared to aluminum. It is the molds and the machine necessary to produce formed carbon products from the material itself that is costly. That and the carbon fiber frames you see in most bike shops are heavily marked up to cover R&D, testing and, well, profit.

      Once Apple designs its molds and the initial machinery investment is paid off, carbon fiber enclosures could eventually become cheaper to produce than their aluminum counterparts.

        • Corrado
        • 9 years ago

        And theres MUCH less waste. Machining a block of aluminum wastes anything in it that ISN’T aluminum. Carbon fiber is sheets, so you wouldn’t waste nearly as much.

          • anotherengineer
          • 9 years ago

          I doubt apple machines its skin out of a block, more than likely they stamp it out of a sheet. Also the left over aluminum can be recycled.

          The left over portions of carbon fibre and epoxy probably cant be recycled, but I don’t know for sure.

            • dragmor
            • 9 years ago

            Think again. Its one block. There is a video of it somewhere released when they first came out (2008?). But my googlefu isn’t good enough.

            [url<]http://www.apple.com/macbookpro/design.html[/url<] MacBook Pro is machined from a single piece of aluminum, an engineering breakthrough that replaced many parts with just one. It’s called the unibody.

            • anotherengineer
            • 9 years ago

            Surprizing it doesnt shine like a mirror after being milled like AL usually does, which leads me to believe it’s etched in acid or something after.

            Either way the aluminum can be recycled after either way.

            I wonder what grade of AL it is, probably just plain regular AL, be nifty if it was 6061-T6. They should make some limited ed. ones out of 316L SS 🙂

            Jobs should contract that out to Edelbrock, they are good with AL, although the price would probably go up 10 fold since it’s not slave labour China.

            O well

            • ludi
            • 9 years ago

            Anything soft enough to be stamped will not be particularly durable in consumer use. Also IIRC they do it with water jet milling.

          • Corrado
          • 9 years ago

          As dragmor said, they flaunted that it was a single billet that they machined for each one when they first announced it.

          Also, CF would be vacuum formed over some sort of skeleton (wood? fiberglass?). Balsa wood is popular as its even lighter than CF per volume. When making a bike you have to lay it by hand, which is what makes the harder angles and curves tough to make, but in something like a laptop chassis you’d likely vacuum form 3 layers of very thin CF fabric in order to be able to get the flexibility out of it. I’ve done CF work by hand and its really not that tough even for amateurs if you’re not trying to get a 100% perfect weave pattern. I’d imagine in a large scale industrial facility they’d have ways to get everything line up perfect every time.

          • Deanjo
          • 9 years ago

          The recovery of milled aluminum is nearly 100%, next to no waste at all, it goes all back to be recycled. What the heck are you smoking about?

      • Corrado
      • 9 years ago

      Show me an ALL METAL chassis with a glass display cover, backlit keyboard 13″ PC for $350 please. While you’re at it, show me the same in a 15″ for $500. Thanks. I mean, why would anyone buy a $60K 400hp Z06 Corvette when they can get put the same LS7 engine into a Chevette, right? Accoutrements and fit and finish mean nothing.

        • axeman
        • 9 years ago

        Yeah, why would you want to marry Marisa Miller when Rosie O’Donnell is better at chopping wood?

        edit: for misspelling the fine ladies name. But I don’t know why I came back here after doing a Google Image search for her…

          • derFunkenstein
          • 9 years ago

          She has that Lumberjack kind of build.

        • cycomiko
        • 9 years ago

        By hardware, i am guessing he means CPU/GPU etc rather than the stuff it is stored in

          • Corrado
          • 9 years ago

          Right, but what good is equivalent hardware if the keyboard sucks, the touch pad is finnicky and has crappy multi-touch support, the thing is plasticy and flexes all over the place, and the screen has garbage viewing angles? The CPU and GPU are parts of the computer, but anymore they aren’t the most important parts anymore. Again, this harkens to my analogy. The engine is the same, but everything else is different. I know I certainly wouldn’t want to use a V8 Chevette every day. Might be a fun track toy, but yeah. The vette is a better driving car in almost every way other than straight line performance.

        • Thrashdog
        • 9 years ago

        I seriously hope you’re not holding the Corvette up as an example of first-class automotive fit and finish.

          • Corrado
          • 9 years ago

          It was the first thing I could think of that had an engine that could easily be put into other things to make the analogy since theres such a large SBC market. Also, the fit and finish on a Z06 is completely different than a base Vette. Its made on a separate assembly line in Bowling Green to much higher standards. I’d imagine the ZR-1 is held to an even higher standard.

          I could have said an FD RX7 vs a Starlet with the 13B? Is that more apt?

      • shank15217
      • 9 years ago

      You know thats not true, just admit it.

    • kamikaziechameleon
    • 9 years ago

    The fingerprint resilient nature of the finish is what caught my eye.

    • 5150
    • 9 years ago

    I’ll buy a laptop from them when they hire Inanimate Carbon Rod.

    • Firestarter
    • 9 years ago

    I can’t imagine carbon fibre being used for the whole chassis. Isn’t it very hard to mold it into small corners and the like?

      • cynan
      • 9 years ago

      This was my understanding too. I think the issue for bikes and the like is that small/sharp corners would be too weak relative to the rest of the frame. But as computers enclosures don’t have to deal with hundreds of pounds of force from various angles, perhaps this is not as much as an issue here.

      Maybe this is the very issue that was overcome in the mentioned patent?

        • Firestarter
        • 9 years ago

        The mountings still need to be durable to withstand a minimum of 2 years abuse. If they’re going to incorporate CF, I’d love to see how 🙂

      • funko
      • 9 years ago

      if they can do a magnesium type roll cage with carbon fiber (ER u brit!) paneling, i think that can be a possibility.

        • bimmerlovere39
        • 9 years ago

        …Isn’t that more-or-less an overly expensive take on the ThinkPad approach?

        If you’re using Magnesium/aluminum/CF for an internal frame, there’s no structural or weight reason to make the exterior carbon fiber. For looks, I suppose… but Aluminum & glass is much truer to apple’s simplistic design ethos of the moment. The texture of carbon fiber would be a big shift for them.

    • xtalentx
    • 9 years ago

    I think Apple products all look the same and are very BORING. Sexy – certainly not.

      • Deanjo
      • 9 years ago

      I think we just found the guy that likes all those wanna be transformerish gamer cases and loves the “cyborg stickers” that the Asian manufacturers love to slap on every stinking product.

      • FubbHead
      • 9 years ago

      Totally agree. They are grey and colorless. Much like its OS.

      And no, I sure have better taste than those tacky transformerish cases mentioned. It’s not like they are all there is…

    • jstern
    • 9 years ago

    [quote<]Carbon fiber has already been used by at least a couple of notebook makers—Acer with the Ferrari series and VoodooPC with it Envy laptops—so Apple wouldn't be the first to encase electronics with a weave.[/quote<] But they will certainly get all the credit.

    • Incubus
    • 9 years ago

    This is why Apple deserves to be number uno,I might even ditch my Pre 3 purchase for an Iphone 5.
    Hope Stevo gets better soon and props to Apple.

    • can-a-tuna
    • 9 years ago

    Wow, Apple hires one guy. Impressive.

      • bender
      • 9 years ago

      Headline news for the new TR apparently…

      Come one guys, there are a lot of companies (not just patent trolls) doing cool stuff (that hasn’t been done before, by your own admission). Why not report on that? Oh right…Apple generate clicks. Like this one. I’ll go shoot myself now.

        • ludi
        • 9 years ago

        Like it or not, Apple is at the leading edge of electronics design and supporting apps, and has been pretty much since the iPod was launched ten years ago. Whatever Apple is up to next, will probably be all over the product marketplace within 1-2 years. That IS newsworthy.

    • mmp121
    • 9 years ago

    Does Jobs think Apple users need more more fiber in their diet?

    • DaveJustDave
    • 9 years ago

    Can’t go wrong with carbon.. I don’t know that carbon would be considerably lighter than aluminum in something like an iphone, but a unibody carbon chassis definitely sounds interesting.

    Kestrel made some great bikes before being bought up by Fuji.

    One thing to note… I’ve had 2 kestrels and my latest, a slightly older Talon SL is matte carbon with a clearcoat.. and it gets smudges and fingerprints like there’s no tomorrow.

      • cynan
      • 9 years ago

      [i<]filed for a patent on carbon-reinforced housings for electronics devices [/i<] There they go again with their overly possessive-sounding patents. First, carbon fiber has been used to build enclosures for electronic devices in the past (other laptops, niche market speaker enclosures, headphone ear cups, flashy audio equipment enclosures, and others I'm sure). And here is a PC case made out of carbon fiber that came out 4 years ago: [url<]http://www.megatechnews.com/ultra-unveils-carbon-fiber-computer-case/[/url<] Second, what is so special about using carbon fiber for an electronics enclosure relative to enclosures that for other items (say a manly Klenex box cozy). A carbon fiber box is a carbon fiber box. Perhaps there was some breakthrough particular to using carbon fiber enclosures with a specific function, perhaps involving the use of different weaves or combining fibers of different tensile strength, etc, then is normally used for automotive or bicycles, but I doubt it.

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