Apple's Mac Brick Rumors and the Environmental Impact


Supposed spy photo of Apple Brick via Engadget

If you're a Mac-ophiliac or a gadget lover, you've likely heard the rumors circulating about a new manufacturing process Apple is keeping hush-hush. Well, the only thing anyone has right now is rumors and fairy dust, though some interesting conclusions are being drawn about this new process.

The Mac Brick Rumor Summed Up
Essentially, the "brick" rumor revolves around the notion that Apple is going to unveil a way to carve a Macbook out of a single brick of aluminum using "3D lasers and water jet cutting." According to Engadget, the technique would eliminate the need to bend and fold parts, eliminate screws, and would mean faster prototype production.

Stepping In for Some Analysis
With the Steve Jobs heart attack fiasco aside, it can be equally tough to toss out a Mac rumor as to accept it — after all, they sometimes turn out to be true. But photos of the supposed prototype have been circulating, so we've decided to assume the rumor about a water jet cutting process is true in order to have a little fun researching what the new process might mean for the environment. Water Jet Cutting Basics
The method of water jet cutting is used in a lot of capacities. In fact, your dentist just may be making your crowns and veneers out of this type of technology.

Basically, a jet of water pressurized as high as 60,000 psi, and often mixed with an abrasive like garnet, is aimed at a chunk of material such as stainless steel, aluminum, ceramics, or even titanium, and it carves away at the material in a highly precise manner.

It generates a whole lot of noise, is a very dangerous process, and all that material carved away becomes waste, which would have to be collected and reprocessed to be used again, or, more likely, tossed. In fact, it is a very wasteful process as a big percentage of the material is carved away and mixes with the water and abrasives. All that would have to go through some sort of (likely energy-intensive) processing if any of it were to be re-used.

As for energy use of the cutting process itself, if a 20 kW pump is used, it would consume 22-35 kW of electricity, and about 2.6 gallons of water per hour. Not really a big deal. The big deal comes with the fact that it is wasteful of raw material.

Would Apple's Brick be a Step Forward or Step Back?
Yet, does this make it any better or worse than current manufacturing processes? When it provides for the elimination of screws and folds, it means less energy going into the production of these items, and the production of the device as a whole. It would also mean fewer folks in the sourcing line-up, so carbon emissions and the use of energy are potentially reduced.

Apple Brick Could Actually Mean Welding, Not Carving
And of course we have to return to the fact that all of this Mac Brick business is speculation. Gizmodo just reported that it looks more like Mac is looking into a new welding process, not a water jet cutting process.

US Patent 7310872, which Business Week quotes in the article as an indication that Apple may be working in this method. However, far from describing the process the brick rumor is referring to, it describes a unique welding process this laptop building technique is all about welding and not about carving. According to the description, the new welding method will result in a strong single composite structure. It won't avoid the seams and screws, but it will reduce them.

This is really interesting, in that it would reduce materials without drastically altering the current manufacturing process.

Our Conclusion on the Apple Brick
Let's wait to see if the rumors are true or not.

UPDATE: Looks like the rumors of a new manufacturing process are more speculation than anything else. Still, it's fun to play "What if..."

More on Greening Manufacturing Processes:
3M — a sticky business on its way to eco-safe manufacturing
Nike Talks Trash With Shoe Made From Manufacturing Waste
GM Promises 40% Less Manufacturing Emissions

Tags: Electronics | Energy Efficiency | Gadgets

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