In Re: MacBook Keyboard Litigation

Redacted Expert Report of D. Niebuhr

Northern District of California, cand-5:2018-cv-02813

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0 REDACTED VERSION OF DOCUMENT SOUGHT TO BE SEALED 0 United States District Court Northern District of California Case No.: 5:18-cv-02813 IN RE MACBOOK KEYBOARD LITIGATION Expert Report of David Niebuhr August 14, 2020 CONTAINS CONFIDENTIAL INFORMATION SUBJECT TO A PROTECTIVE ORDER FILED UNDER SEAL 0 In re MacBook Keyboard Litig. – 5:18-cv-02813 TABLE OF CONTENTS I. ASSIGNMENT II. QUALIFICATIONS III. OVERVIEW OF RELEVANT LAPTOP COMPONENTS IV. SUMMARY OF OPINIONS V. BASES FOR OPINIONS VI. RESEARCH RESULTS VII. INSPECTIONS VIII. CONCLUSION 1 0 In re MacBook Keyboard Litig. – 5:18-cv-02813 I. ASSIGNMENT 1. I have been retained as an expert witness by Chimicles Schwartz Kriner & Donaldson- Smith LLP and Girard Sharp LLP in connection with a proposed class action lawsuit in which the Plaintiffs allege that their MacBooks failed due to the keys registering more than once, getting stuck, and/or not registering at all when pressed (the "Defect"). 2. I was engaged to review and assess the existence of the Defect and its root cause. To this end, I reviewed Apple's failure analysis and other technical documents and witness testimony, and visually inspected the internal components of several MacBooks. In this preliminary expert report, I explain, provide background on, and opine on the cause of failures of the butterfly mechanism keyboard in these computers. 3. My opinions are based upon my 25 years of experience in the field of mechanical engineering and metallurgy, my inspection and testing of MacBooks, and my review of public materials and materials produced in this litigation as set out in Section IV, below. 4. In connection with my work as an expert, Niebuhr Metallurgical Engineering is being compensated at a rate of $300 per hour for consulting, and $350 per hour for deposition testimony and court appearances, plus reimbursement for reasonable expenses. No portion of my compensation is dependent or otherwise contingent on the content of my testimony. 5. This report contains my preliminary conclusions, based upon the information I have reviewed to date, concerning the butterfly mechanism keyboards used in MacBooks. My work on this matter is ongoing and, as such, this report represents only those opinions I have formed to date. I understand discovery is ongoing. My opinions are therefore subject to modification and supplementation based upon my continuing analysis of materials provided, additional information received in discovery or separately obtained, as well as any information, materials, and analysis disclosed in any other experts' reports. II. QUALIFICATIONS 6. I am an Adjunct Professor in the Mechanical Engineering department at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, California. I teach courses in mechanics, experimental design, and mechanics of materials to undergraduate students. In the past I was a professor of materials engineering in which I taught courses to both undergraduates and graduates in materials selection and design, failure analysis, physical metallurgy, electronic materials, and 2 0 In re MacBook Keyboard Litig. – 5:18-cv-02813 tribology. Additionally, I have taught several courses in consumer product design and failure analysis with faculty in other disciplines. 7. I have also conducted research for the university in tribology, which is the study of friction and wear of materials. My research included two summer appointments to NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory as a visiting scholar. 8. I am a member of the American Society of Materials, a professional organization comprised of metallurgical and materials engineers. 9. I have extensive experience in root cause failure analysis and evaluation of mechanical designs of electro-mechanical consumer products. I am the owner and founder of Niebuhr Metallurgical Engineering in San Luis Obispo, California, where I have performed expert and consulting services in several cases related to product design, materials selection, and the identification of design flaws and ways to mitigate them. My resume, attached as Exhibit A, lists my qualifications, publications I authored over the last ten years, and cases in which I have testified as an expert at trial or by deposition over the last four years. 10. I began my studies at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, graduating in 1993 with a B.S. in Materials Engineering. I then attended Oregon Graduate Institute of Science & Technology, graduating in 1997 with a Ph.D. in Materials Science and Engineering. I have a professional engineering license in the subject of metallurgy. 11. My background and experience provide me with a comprehensive and specialized understanding of the mechanical and material design of consumer electronics. I have performed numerous detailed analyses of materials and how they are integrated into systems to optimize performance. I have applied my design and failure analysis expertise to, among other electronic products, thermal printers, hard disk drives, solenoids, and various medical devices. I have relevant expertise in electronic product-failure testing and analysis as well as in materials selection based on products' operational requirements. III. OVERVIEW OF RELEVANT LAPTOP COMPONENTS 12. The keyboard is the primary way users interface with a laptop. It is made up of a key matrix, a grid of miniature circuits underneath each individual key that is connected to the Printed Circuit Board, or PCB, which serves as the keyboard's command center. When a key is pressed, it collapses the components beneath it, sending a small electrical current to the PCB that completes 3 0 In re MacBook Keyboard Litig. – 5:18-cv-02813 the circuit. The laptop's processor compares the location of the closed circuit on the key matrix to its character map memory, and then registers the associated character. 13. (Rule 30(b)(6) Deposition of Michele Goldberg ("Goldberg Depo."), at 130:20-131:4; 131:22-133:4). 14. A. (Goldberg Depo., at 166:10-167:4). In order to access the PCB, the top case must be detached from the bottom case (housing the motherboard, processor, memory, and batteries) and screen, which requires dismantling the laptop. The keys attach to web casing, with a hole for each key. Once screws are removed the keyboard can be peeled back from the web casing. Figure 1. Inside of Top Case Figure 2. Inside of Bottom Case (view looking up) (view looking down) 15. (Goldberg Depo., at 55:15-18). 4 0 In re MacBook Keyboard Litig. – 5:18-cv-02813. (Goldberg Depo., at 50:7-18; 51:3-16). (APL-MBKeyboard_00134030). 16. In 2014, Apple patented a "butterfly" switch for laptop keyboards.1 The butterfly switch is a single assembly mechanism, the movement of which resembles a butterfly flapping its wings. The two wings attach to a hinge in the middle, in a "V" or "U" shape. (Deposition of Bryan McDonald ("McDonald Depo.") at 76:14-20; Goldberg Depo., at 50:3-51:2; 64:3-11.) (APL-MBKeyboard_00134030.) 1 Leong, C., et. al., 2014, Low-Travel Key Mechanisms Using Butterfly Hinges (; see also Leong, C., et. al., 2016, Keyboard Assemblies Having Reduced Thickness and Method of Forming Assemblies (; Wang, P.X., et. al., 2018, Ingress Prevention for Keyboards (; Leong, C., et. al., 2018, Low-Travel Key Mechanism for an Input Device ( 5 0 In re MacBook Keyboard Litig. – 5:18-cv-02813 17. Key "travel" distance refers to the vertical displacement of a key measured from its resting position to its fully compressed position. (Goldberg Depo., at 37:1-7.) In other words, travel is the distance in millimeters that a key must be depressed before its key strike is registered. We can define the flat plane of the keyboard as the X-Y plane, and the direction perpendicular to that plane as the Z axis. (McDonald Depo., at 27:9-28:25.) The key travel is on the Z axis, moving up and down. (Id.) As discussed in more detail below, the travel distance feature on a keyboard factors heavily into the overall thickness of a laptop. 18. (APL- MBKeyboard_00686248; APL-MBKeyboard_00698206; Goldberg Depo., at 36:11-14, 38:11-20; McDonald Depo., at 31:19-32:1). McDonald Depo., at 26:4-19). 19. (APL-MBKeyboard_00686248; APL-MBKeyboard_00698206). (Goldberg Depo., 38:21-39:7). . (Goldberg Depo. at 50:3-51:2; 82:7- 11). This combination of materials and architecture provides a stiffer feel and does not make an acoustic click when a key is pressed. 20. . (APL- MBKeyboard_00992840; APL-MBKeyboard_00992843). (McDonald Depo., at 25:24-27:5, 31:2-18). 6 0 In re MacBook Keyboard Litig. – 5:18-cv-02813 Figure 1. Gaps between aluminum web. Left image illustrates low magnification, right image better illustrates gap that can range from 350 to 500 microns. 21. (Goldberg Depo., at 111:7-12). (Goldberg Depo., at 112:24-113:12). 22. While there are other minor components resting in between the keycap and the PCB, the primary components described above are common to all of the MacBook models at issue in this case. IV. SUMMARY OF OPINIONS2 23. Apple manufactured and sold sixteen models3 of MacBooks with a materially similar butterfly mechanism keyboard design. These MacBooks span three "generations" that were sold between March 2015 and March 2020. Based on my analysis, I conclude that each of these butterfly keyboard MacBooks is defective. . (APL-MBKeyboard_00148630; APL-MBKeyboard_00154844; APL- MBKeyboard_00992840; APL-MBKeyboard_00992843). 2 Specific materials that I have reviewed and analyzed appear in the footnoted text of this report. 3 SAC, ¶ 205. 7 0 In re MacBook Keyboard Litig. – 5:18-cv-02813 (APL-MBKeyboard_00780296.) (APL-MBKeyboard_00051910). 24. Hundreds of thousands of consumers have reported MacBook butterfly keyboard failures involving keys that stick, register multiple times when pressed only once, or stop registering keystrokes entirely. (Rule 30(b)(6) Deposition of Jared Williams ("Williams Depo."), at 60:18-24, 78:19-79:8; Rule 30(b)(6) Deposition of Cheri Gandy ("Gandy Depo."), at 55:2-18.) (Goldberg Depo., at 105:7-15 139:19-24, 140:10-20, 154:6-22; Rule 30(b)(6) Deposition of Pradyumna Prabhumirashi ("Prad Depo."), at 193:20-195:25, 196:23-197:7; APL- MBKeyboard_00299124; APL-MBKeyboard_00204786.) My preliminary analysis corroborates Apple's findings. 25. The critical components of the butterfly keyboard design were the same for all MacBooks in question: 4 Apple's Supplemental Responses to Plaintiffs' First Set of Interrogatories, Nos. 4, 11-12; working-keyboard 8 0 In re MacBook Keyboard Litig. – 5:18-cv-02813 (APL-MBKeyboard_00686248.) (APL-MBKeyboard_00698206; APL-MBKeyboard_01154640 at – 652 (2019 models); see also Goldberg Depo. at 38:21-39:10). 26. Further, all sixteen butterfly models (Goldberg Depo., at 154:6-22; McDonald Depo., at 25:24-27:5, 31:2-18; APL- MBKeyboard_00204786.) inhibit particles wedged below the keycaps from exiting. 27. My analysis thus applies to all sixteen models of Apple MacBooks with butterfly keyboards. I confirmed—both from a close review of Apple's documents and deposition testimony, and based on my own examination of several MacBooks—that the design of the butterfly mechanism keyboard is materially and functionally similar for all models of butterfly MacBooks. 28. Between March 2015 through early March 2020, Apple manufactured and sold MacBooks with the butterfly keyboard.5 The expected useful life of an Apple laptop is four years.6 Based on Apple's data, MacBooks that have been in the field for four years showed Id. By contrast, the 5 APL-MBKeyboard_01178967. 6 S