Feeds

Thank BRIT eggheads for new iMac's sexy seamless knife-edge

Welding knowhow keeps Apple beyond bleeding

5 things you didn’t know about cloud backup

A little-known British company is the brains behind technology in the new super-slim iMacs that Apple CEO Tim Cook raved about on stage.

That admired tech is the tapered aluminium edge at the 5mm-wide end of Apple's latest thin desktops, which were revealed at an event in October.

Edge of the latest iMac, credit Apple

The new thin iMac and its 5mm edge

The welding technique that has made the new iMac so thin is the intellectual property of Cambridge-based company TWI. The iMac Apple is just 5mm thick around the edges of the display on the all-in-one computer, and the aluminium join is made possible by friction-stir welding.

Invented in 1991 by Wayne Thomas at TWI, friction-stir welding is a solid-state process, meaning that it doesn't require the materials to be melted for them to be joined. Instead it softens and merges the edges by mixing the two materials under frictional heat.

The result is a smoother join of very high strength, and the process is quicker and uses less energy than traditional welding techniques.

It allows the join to be thinner too, so Apple can reduce the width of the iMac down to half a centimetre when attaching the front to the back of the computer: a "seamless, precise, and superstrong join" according to Apple.

The first licensed use of friction-stir welding was the in the construction of freezers for Swedish fishermen. Since then it's been used for spacecraft fuel tanks, aeroplane wings, high-speed trains, and boat hulls. And now it's in the new iMac.

Apple licensed the tech earlier this year and has been testing it since then. Iain Smith, associate director and intellectual property manager of TWI, would not reveal the commercial details of the deal with Apple.

But Smith said licences cost roughly £40,000 per assembly plant location per year - although that can vary according to the overall size of the contract and TWI's relationship with the customer.

Its list of patent licensees includes seven mentions of Hon Hai, the parent of Apple's electronics manufacturing partner Foxconn, but Smith said the extent of the Apple contract was greater than that.

Most of TWI's clients are big aerospace contractors, such as BAE and Lockheed Martin. Apple is unusual in using the metal-mushing technique for consumer electronics, although Smith mentioned that a Bang & Olufsen speaker has used friction-stir welded aluminium for the past 12 to 15 years, and heat sinks in laptops are among other components built using the technology.

The Brit welding specialist collected £60m in revenue in 2011, and banked a profit of just under a million quid. It is an independent research and development organisation, Smith explained, and it ploughs its profits back into devising new welding techniques - the speciality at the heart of the business: "If you think about it," Smith said, "everything you do in the world is joining materials together." ®

The essential guide to IT transformation

More from The Register

next story
So, Apple won't sell cheap kit? Prepare the iOS garden wall WRECKING BALL
It can throw the low cost race if it looks to the cloud
Samsung Gear S: Quick, LAUNCH IT – before Apple straps on iWatch
Full specs for wrist-mounted device here ... but who'll buy it?
Now that's FIRE WIRE: HP recalls 6 MILLION burn-risk laptop cables
Right in the middle of Burning Mains Man week
Chumps stump up $1 MEELLLION for watch that doesn't exist
By the way, I have a really nice bridge you might like...
HUGE iPAD? Maybe. HUGE ADVERTS? That's for SURE
Noo! Hand not big enough! Don't look at meee!
AMD unveils 'single purpose' graphics card for PC gamers and NO ONE else
Chip maker claims the Radeon R9 285 is 'best in its class'
prev story

Whitepapers

Endpoint data privacy in the cloud is easier than you think
Innovations in encryption and storage resolve issues of data privacy and key requirements for companies to look for in a solution.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Advanced data protection for your virtualized environments
Find a natural fit for optimizing protection for the often resource-constrained data protection process found in virtual environments.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
Next gen security for virtualised datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.