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Apple iWatch running into more problems; production yield less than 50%?

Posted: , by Alan F.

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Apple iWatch running into more problems; production yield less than 50%?
Apple and Qualcomm both are reportedly having a problem building their smartwatches. Both companies are said to have yield rates under 50% for the Apple iWatch and the Qualcomm Toq. Reports from the upstream supply chain say that the problem has to do with spraying treatments on their metal injected moulded chassis (MIM). This process is often used in "the production of high-precision products with complicated industrial designs," and allows products with special shapes to remain rigid.

Surface treatments for MIM were relatively unheard of until the components started showing up on the outside of devices, and required special treatment. And with companies like Apple trying to lock up long term supplies for some parts, suppliers are having problems accommodating everyone. While Qualcomm has already launched its Toq smartwatch, other manufacturers besides Apple expecting to release one this year include Sony, Casio, Nike, Adidas, Epson and LG.

The below 50% production yield that Apple and Qualcomm purportedly have grabbled with, means that out of 40 watches being built, less than 20 make the cut and can be sold. This isn't the first time we've heard of problems with Apple's iWatch. During the summer, Apple was rumored to be hiring new engineers to help it get past a design problem that it was having with the product.

source: DigiTimes

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posted on 02 Jan 2014, 20:44 4

1. VZWuser76 (Posts: 1174; Member since: 04 Mar 2010)


The MIM process has been around since the 70s, and is used a lot in firearms manufacturing for smaller parts (triggers, slide stops, etc.) So it seems odd that they are having so many problems with this. It's not like it's new technology.

posted on 02 Jan 2014, 21:08 2

2. Mxyzptlk (Posts: 3211; Member since: 21 Apr 2012)


Smart watches aren't exactly something that's been around for a while though.

posted on 02 Jan 2014, 23:31 1

5. VZWuser76 (Posts: 1174; Member since: 04 Mar 2010)


How does that matter? MIM is a process to make a material more rigid. The shapes of the firearms parts are extremely more complex than a rectangle, even if it's curved. Many of the firearm parts are as intricately shaped as the parts inside a mechanical clock or watch. This is the chassis. If they were start they would've consulted with or hired people from firearms manufacturers. They've been dealing with far more intricate designs and for far longer.

posted on 03 Jan 2014, 00:50

7. Furbal (Posts: 218; Member since: 22 Sep 2012)


I was going to say the same thing. +1.

posted on 03 Jan 2014, 07:59 1

9. troutsy (Posts: 238; Member since: 17 Feb 2012)


I didn't want to start my Friday by agreeing with Mxy, but manufacturing isn't as easy as you seem to imply.

Metal Injection Molding is a multi-step process that molds a part significantly larger than the final shape. It's then basically baked in an oven down to a usable state. Since the 70's, the process has been refined so the size can be relatively accurately predicted. But even then, your comparison to gun mfgs isn't fair because Apple probably puts much tighter tolerance on their part.

And you haven't even addressed the actual problem listed in the article. They say the production fallout is due to surface treatments on the part, not MIM. There could be 1000 different problems they are dealing with that make the surface peel off, scratch easily, discolor.

posted on 03 Jan 2014, 10:35

11. VZWuser76 (Posts: 1174; Member since: 04 Mar 2010)


I could agree with most of what you said, until you mentioned that Apple has tighter tolerance on their parts than a gun manufacturer. Those are mechanical parts that need a tight tolerance if they're going to work, the part on this iWatch is the chassis, it's not a moving part.

posted on 03 Jan 2014, 10:46

13. VZWuser76 (Posts: 1174; Member since: 04 Mar 2010)


And I am usually the first one to point out that when there is a problem with a device, that there are component tolerances and mechancal issues that may affect the final product. But I would think with a chassis that the tolerances wouldn't need to be so tight.

posted on 03 Jan 2014, 11:21

15. troutsy (Posts: 238; Member since: 17 Feb 2012)


I think it could go either way. I think the MIM gun parts are not actually that difficult to tolerance. External features (the width/length of the trigger, etc.) aren't probably critical to the mechanical operation. Anything that affects firing/safety I would think is machined as a secondary operation. I wouldn't call that a feature of the MIM.

I never understand how Apple fits components together. Think about the gap between the outside of the chassis where the glass is fit/glued into place. Around the entire perimeter of the glass there will be a zero-gap fit. It's a nightmare to tolerance and make a part like that.

But that is again besides the point, if it is something with the surface finish it probably has to do with the back of the watch. Tolerances/Requirements for the back of the watch are likely very strict and difficult to evaluate. Number of scratches, the width/length allowable for scratches, the size/number of dimples on the surface. Someone looking at the watch under a specifically controlled light will only be 85% consistent at identifying defects if they are good. So a 50% fallout isn't necessarily outrageous.

posted on 03 Jan 2014, 16:22

17. VZWuser76 (Posts: 1174; Member since: 04 Mar 2010)


The external tolerances wouldn't be that big of an issue, but internal parts would be. If anything they are right on or slightly bigger, then a gunsmith does some fitment (anything from deburring to grinding) to make it work. But you wouldn't want to be too far off otherwise the figment process would be cost prohibitive and and the gunsmith and/or customer will look elsewhere for a product with closer tolerances.

The difference as I see it is that with a firearm, these are moving parts. With something like a watch chassis, once they're together, that should be it, barring disassembly for repairs. The only advantage that the firearm industry has over the mobile device industry is that they aren't shipping anywhere near the amount of devices that companies like Apple and Samsung are. So employees can take more time to ensure a proper fitment.

posted on 02 Jan 2014, 21:20

3. Extradite (banned) (Posts: 316; Member since: 30 Dec 2013)


Always the first product made buy any company, tends to be having lots of negative drawbacks, .. il"e wait for the 2nd version.

posted on 02 Jan 2014, 23:37 2

6. VZWuser76 (Posts: 1174; Member since: 04 Mar 2010)


But like I said in reply to Myx, this isn't like a normal problem with first run products, it's a metal strengthening process for the chassis that's been in use for around 40 years, not a defective mechanical part or an out of tolerance electrical component. It sounds like the people Apple & QC hired weren't as experienced as they needed to be. But perhaps the people who are old hats at this are under contract and/or have non compete clauses for the MIM process.

posted on 03 Jan 2014, 08:01 1

10. troutsy (Posts: 238; Member since: 17 Feb 2012)


And no... none of that is correct.

posted on 03 Jan 2014, 10:42

12. VZWuser76 (Posts: 1174; Member since: 04 Mar 2010)


So MIM is not a metal strengthening process that came about in the 70s? And defective mechanical parts and out of tolerance electronic components aren't problems that plague most first run devices? The last 2 sentences were my speculations on why they are having the problems they are, which I can be wrong about, because they are just speculation. But really, everything is wrong?

posted on 03 Jan 2014, 11:00

14. troutsy (Posts: 238; Member since: 17 Feb 2012)


I've never actually worked with MIM, but I think calling it a strengthening process is grossly misleading.

We used to have many powder metal products at our company, which forces metal powder into a shape and then applies heat to get the metal grains to fuse together. MIM is similar, but the first step is to mix the metal powder with a plastic material and inject the plastic into the net shape. The plastic is dissolved away and then the metal is fused together with heat in a similar fashion. The advantages are the complexity and accuracy of the shape that you are able to create with MIM versus powder metal. It also allows a much larger selection of materials versus direct injecting molten metal, ie. Die casting.

Your speculation and commentary on launch issues isn't wrong, per se, but it's based on the one assumption that I just really, really disagree with.

posted on 03 Jan 2014, 16:30

18. VZWuser76 (Posts: 1174; Member since: 04 Mar 2010)


I can see what you mean now, thanks for the info. Just curious, I know plenty of gun owners on the forums shun MIM parts, similar to people on here when OEMS use a plastic/polycarbonite body. Are they any worse than die cast parts in terms of strength or longevity? I have quite a few guns with MIM parts and they've never given me any trouble. But the way some of these guys talk about MIM parts it's like they're made out of asbestos or baby kittens.

posted on 03 Jan 2014, 13:00

16. TBomb (Posts: 86; Member since: 28 Dec 2012)


My guess is they're looking in the wrong spot for the problem... maybe it's not in the actual MIM process itself but theyre doing something wrong in another spot.

posted on 02 Jan 2014, 22:17 2

4. InspectorGadget80 (Posts: 6116; Member since: 26 Mar 2011)


Wow must be very hard for Apple to make a smart watch. SONY is on its way making a 3rd one soon, SAMSUNG redesigning it's 2nd Smart Watch. next up is LG

posted on 03 Jan 2014, 06:39

8. rusticguy (Posts: 2814; Member since: 11 Aug 2012)


Same old Apple and YIELD story as always.

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