3gs up close

Talk about timely news. Just as I ran a story about a patent Apple was granted yesterday which describes what looks to be the rumored less-pricey iPhone that could be made from “transparent materials such as clear plastic”, news broke that the Cupertino, California gadget designer posted a new job listing for Manufacturing Design Engineer with a focus in Advanced Plastic Tooling and Process.

Now, Apple’s been moving away from plastic towards aluminum for pretty much all of its products in years past. Why on Earth would then Apple be looking to expand and improve its current plastics division unless, of course, it’s in fact working on a less expensive iPhone for emerging markets, made with a cheaper plastic case to keep costs down?

MacRumors passes along Apple’s job listing for a Manufacturing Design Engineer (MDE) – Advanced Plastic Tooling and Process engineer who will be asked to identify, develop and launch “new tooling and process capabilities in support of new Apple product developments”.

I like the sound of ‘new’.

iPad mini manufacturing (Unibody 001)

Furthermore, Apple writes, the engineer will focus on “non-traditional Apple plastic processing such as thermoforming, foam molding, blow molding, etc., and their application to new Apple products”.

Just in case you were wondering, the position involves training engineers at supplier plants in Asia “to utilize new tooling materials and fabrication techniques”.

And just to dispel any notion that perhaps Apple is seeking engineers to design next-gen plasticky wireless appliances like AirPort base stations, the ideal candidate “will have demonstrated history of bringing new process and tooling technologies through a full development cycle and launch into high volume production (emphasis mine).

Wi-Fi Plus Cellular AirPort

The AirPort – or even the Apple TV – hardly classes as a high volume product, but a cheaper iPhone with a plastic body sounds about right, now doesn’t it?

Apple is also seeking a Plastics Tooling Engineer who will lead the development of “new plastic injection tooling projects to meet a wide range of product performance and cosmetic requirement”, as well as lead Apple suppliers to design and produce “world-class plastic tooling”.

Position requires 10+ years in the mold making and molding industry. “Extensive” experience in tooling design and manufacturing is a must, as is the willingness to travel to Asia frequently.

iPhone 5 (manufacturing process 003)

Sounds like Apple is developing a new high-profile product with some sort of a plastic body that – if these job posts are anything to go by – will be anything but cheap-looking.

If you ask me, today’s patent and now this job posts both suggest that Apple could be serious about building an affordable iPhone, Phil Schiller be damned.