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Apple throws down aluminum gauntlet to plastics designers

 Fill in this blank.   “——— was the ideal choice for this product, because it provides us the thinness and lightness we want in the portable category, great strength-to-weight ratio, and it also provides us some really nice options from a finishing perspective.”

 Fill in this blank.

 

“——— was the ideal choice for this product, because it provides us the thinness and lightness we want in the portable category, great strength-to-weight ratio, and it also provides us some really nice options from a finishing perspective.”

If you said “plastic” you’d be wrong, or at least that’s what Dan Riccio, VP product design at computers and consumer electronics maker Apple, apparently thinks.

Apple has chosen to stress the move to a single, machined piece of aluminum for the base of the latest iteration of MacBook notebook computers, hyping the design element in advertising, as well as this web video, which shows ingots of aluminum extruded into sheets, which are then cut and machined through “13 separate milling operations”, according to the video, into a single element with the requisite ribs, bosses, and holes for various plugs and outlets.

The entire video promotes the ability of aluminum to reduce weight and combine components, two hallmark traits of plastics, which are noticeably absent here. Jony Ive, senior VP design at Apple, intones in the video, “We figured out a way of being able to make the notebook thinner, lighter, and fundamentally more robust, and with a degree of fit and finish that we’ve never even dreamed of before. And the only way to make that one part was to machine it from a single piece of aluminum.”

I’d guess that there are some design engineers at engineering thermoplastic suppliers who’d disagree with that last sentence, but their explanations might fall on deaf ears at Apple. “Plastics” are never mentioned in the short, and, in fact, the only material mentioned—PVC—is only noted to say it’s been eliminated from the machines' wire and cable jacketing.

The video closes stressing the greenness of the product, which has eliminated “toxins” and reduced weight, as well as secondary packaging, to lessen its carbon footprint. Long a trendsetter in design, Apple’s moves here seem to lift up aluminum at the expense of polymers. “We have chosen materials and processes that are the best in the industry from an environmental perspective,” Riccio concludes. What do you think?—[email protected]

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