Apple gives Metal Injection Moulding (MIM) a boost with its new Lightning connector

November 7, 2012

Apple’s new Lightning connector system, featured on the recently launched iPhone 5 and iPad mini, has given the international Metal Injection Moulding (MIM) industry a substantial boost thanks to its use of this advanced manufacturing process. The use of MIM in the Lightning connector has resulted in a surge in demand for MIM grade powders and a drive to install additio nal component manufacturing capacity.

It was stated at a Special Interest Seminar on Powder Injection Molding at the PM2012 World Congress, Yokohama, Japan, 14-18 October, that production of the Lightning connector parts was running at 5 million parts per month, whilst other MIM components for the iPhone amount to more than 10 million parts per month, with large number of workers required to achieve the required level of surface finish and necessary tolerances. 

It is understood that production is being met by primary Apple suppliers in Taiwan, some of whom have large MIM operations in China. Additional manufacturers in China are also reported to be engaged to help meet capacity.


The new Lightning connector

(Image courtesy Apple  Inc.)

Industry sources state that Apple has specified a single MIM feedstock supplier for the production of the Lightning dock components, a move that can be seen as a way of ensuring feedstock quality and consistency when using a number of different component manufacturers. It is also understood that a preferred supplier has been specified for the furnaces used to debind and sinter the parts.

With Apple announcing that five million units of the iPhone 5 were sold on the product’s launch weekend, and some analysts projecting that up to 200 million units could be sold over the next year, it is clear that demand for MIM components for Apple’s new generation range of connectors, to be used with all new Apple mobile devices, is set to rocket.

The use of MIM in mobile phones is not new, with numerous keys, buttons and vibrators manufactured in large quantities by the Asian MIM industry for a diverse range of end-users. This new application in the Lightning connector is, however, one of the most important developments in terms of production volumes.

In 2006 Advanced Materials Technologies Pte Ltd, Singapore, won a Metal Powder Industries Federation (MPIF) award for a series of MIM parts for Motorola’s clamshell designed PEBL mobile phone.  Ceramic Injection Molding (CIM) is also finding applications in this sector, particularly in the luxury market, with Dutch CIM producer Formatec Technical Ceramics B.V manufacturing black zirconia cover pieces for high-end Vertu mobile phones.

All key MIM grade powder suppliers have announced capacity increases over the last 12 months in anticipation of continuing industry growth.

What’s the appeal of MIM technology?

The Powder Injection Molding (PIM) industry, which includes both metal (MIM) and ceramic (CIM) components, is currently estimated to generate sales of US$1.5 billion, with an annual growth rate of 15-20%.  

Powder Injection Moulding, which was first developed in the 1970s and commercialised in the 1980s, is regarded as an ideal process for the manufacture of small, high volume precision components and the technology has for many years been an essential manufacturing process for the telecommunications sector.

With the use of multi-cavity tooling, which can often have 16 or even 32 cavities for some micro-sized components, and continuous debinding and sintering systems, a MIM facility is ideally suited to the high volume production of small precision components.

Want to know more about MIM?

Discover our 14 page Introduction to Powder Injection Moulding section to find out more about the process steps for PIM.

News | PDF Store | Magazine Subscriptions | What is PIM? | e-newsletter

In the latest issue of PIM International…

Download PDF

Extensive MIM, CIM industry and sinter-based AM industry news, plus the following exclusive deep-dive articles and reports:

  • Visottica Group: Integrated workflows and the value of Metal Injection Moulding in eyewear and beyond
  • In MIM’s post-smartphone era, where is China’s Metal Injection Moulding industry going?
  • Ceramic AM at scale: The story of how Steinbach AG scaled production to 12,000 parts a year for Da Vinci Surgical Systems
  • MIM F75 (Co-Cr-Mo) for high-volume production: The impact of sintering conditions on microstructure and properties
  • World PM2022: Research into the Binder Jetting of aluminium, Ni-free stainless steel, hardmetals and metallic glass

The latest news from the MIM, CIM and sinter-based AM industries

Don't miss any new issue of PIM International, and stay up to date with the latest industry news. Sign up to our fortnightly newsletter.

Sign up

Join our community

News from the industry…

    Discover our magazine archive…

    The free-to-access PIM International magazine archive offers unparalleled insight into the world of MIM, CIM and sinter-based AM from a commercial and technological perspective through:

    • Reports on visits to leading part manufacturers and industry suppliers
    • Articles on technology and application trends
    • Information on materials developments
    • Reviews of key technical presentations from the international conference circuit
    • International industry news

    All past issues are available to download as free PDFs or view in your browser.


    Browse the archive


    Looking for suppliers of materials, production equipment and finished MIM, CIM or sinter-based AM parts?

    Discover suppliers of these and more in our advertisers’ index and buyer’s guide, available in the back of PIM International.

    • Metal powders
    • MIM, CIM & AM parts producers
    • Binders & feedstocks
    • Feedstock mixers
    • Furnaces & furnace supplies
    • Atmospheres & gas generation
    • HIP systems & services
    • Injection moulding machines
    • AM technology
    • Debinding systems
    Download PDF
    Share via
    Copy link
    Powered by Social Snap