The second-generation Apple Watch Ultra is rumored to launch later this year, and this time around Apple could take a new approach to manufacturing in order to ramp up production and cut costs: 3D printing.
That's according to reliable analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, who, in a recent post on Medium, describes Apple's next-gen wearable as “2H23” — which refers to the second half of 2023. While that timeframe leaves a lot up to speculation, it at least suggests a wearable that could be demoed alongside the iPhone 15 at Apple's September event. Previously Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman predicted we’d see the Apple Watch Ultra 2 sometime in 2023, which Kuo's report seems to back up.
Perhaps more interesting than the Ultra 2's timeline is the fine print of its production. According to Kuo, Apple is "actively adopting 3D printing technology" into its manufacturing process, and some of the titanium mechanical parts of the Ultra 2 will be 3D printed. This change could be a serious game-changer for Apple.
"Although currently the mechanical parts made by 3D printing still have to go through the CNC process for back-end processes, it can still improve the production time and reduce the production cost," Kuo writes.
What mechanical parts could these be? That's something we can deduce from the original Apple Watch Ultra. The digital crown, side button and action buttons are the device's only mechanical parts. These titanium parts are currently CNC machined. Though of course, there's a chance the second-generation device could adopt more mechanical parts we don’t know about yet.
Apple's trial run for 3D-printing
Apple plans to print these parts using components from IPG Photonics, Farsoon and BLT, Kuo said. This appears to be something of a trial run for Apple by incorporating 3D-printed parts on a device with a smaller-scale production than something like its flagship iPhone 15 and iPhone 15 Pro handsets. The Ultra 2 is also tipped to be Apple's test subject for Micro-LED technology, which would make for a much brighter screen.
But if everything goes off without a hitch, we could see the iPhone maker adopt more 3D printing technology into its manufacturing processes in the future.
"If shipments go well, I believe more Apple products will adopt 3D printing technology, which will help improve production cost and ESG performance in Apple’s supply chain, and the above-mentioned suppliers will also benefit from this new production trend," Kuo speculates.
Who knows, in the not-so-distant future, we could see the best MacBooks and iPads sporting 3D-printed parts. If Kuo and Gurman are right, we should learn more about the Watch Ultra 2 at Apple's September event, where the Apple Watch Series 9 is also expected to make an appearance.