Apple’s New Manufacturing Process

Along with all the other technology that Apple announced today, there was quite a bit of time devoted to showing off the innovative manufacturing process in the new 15″ MacBook Pro. Previous versions of the MacBook Pro were made from pressed aluminum parts held together with screws and fitted with plastic gaskets to cover the seams. The new MacBook Pro enclosure is milled from a single “brick” of aluminum. This approach allows for a seamless enclosure with no visible screws and a few other innovative features.

Apple is referring to this new approach as a unibody enclosure. They employ CNC machines to carve the unibody from a solid block of metal that starts out weighing 2.5lbs and ends up as a .25lb top enclosure. The other 90% of the original piece is recovered during the manufacturing process and recycled to make new aluminum blocks. The result is a thinner and lighter enclosure that is simultaneously stronger and stiffer.

The aesthetics are affected as well. Gone are the screws along the side and the opening for the sleep light to shine through the case is actually perforated by laser so that it’s virtually invisible to the naked eye. The only breaks along the edge of the new MacBook Pro are from the various ports on the left, the superdrive slot on the right, and the IR port on the front.

The screws holding the top case and the bottom together are found along the back edge and underneath the new access door along the front. The new access door covers the battery and the hard drive. The battery is not part of the bottom case anymore and is entirely covered by the access door. Because the battery is otherwise covered by the access door, the battery indicator lights are visible through perforations in the side of the enclosure. This gives the new MacBook Pro a very clean look along the bottom as well.

Improvements to the manufacturing process go beyond the new unibody construction. Apple has also dropped a number of harmful chemicals by using LED backlighting (no Mercury) and removing BFR and PVC from the logic board, cables and connectors. The unibody enclosure also means fewer extraneous bits and pieces to hold the enclosure together that would have gone to a landfill before. The packaging has also been reduced by 37%, which means less paper products and decreased environmental impact from transportation. The significance of all these changes is a new laptop that is almost entirely recyclable and has earned the highest rating of EPEAT Gold.