Materials scientist Dr. Jan Schroers is the former Director of Research at Liquidmetal Technologies, the company whose technology Apple licensed last year. LT developed super-strong metals that can be liquified and molded like plastic, opening up a world of possibilities for industrial design, and Schroers opined that future iPhones would be made of the stuff.
Liquidmetal is a brand name, but the actual material involved is called BMG, or Bulk Metallic Glass. Dr. Schroers has continued his research into BMGs at Yale University, and together with his team recently released a paper detailing their findings to the Materials Today journal.
"These alloys look like ordinary metal but can be blow molded just as cheaply and as easily as plastic," Schroers said. So far the team has created a number of complex shapes-including seamless metallic bottles, watch cases, miniature resonators and biomedical implants-that can be molded in less than a minute and are twice as strong as typical steel.
The materials cost about the same as high-end steel, Schroers said, but can be processed as cheaply as plastic. The alloys are made up of different metals, including zirconium, nickel, titanium and copper.
..."The trick is to avoid friction typically present in other forming techniques," Schroers said. "Blow molding completely eliminates friction, allowing us to create any number of complicated shapes, down to the nanoscale."
Schroers and his team are already using their new processing technique to fabricate miniature resonators for microelectromechanical systems (MEMS)-tiny mechanical devices powered by electricity-as well as gyroscopes and other resonator applications. In addition, by blow molding the BMGs, the team was able to combine three separate steps in traditional metal processing (shaping, joining and finishing) into one, allowing them to carry out previously cumbersome, time- and energy-intensive processing in less than a minute.
To the layperson, Schroers' paper will not infuse you with knowledge different than what you might have surmised by reading earlier posts on Liquidmetal (here, here and here); but for the materials/production method geeks among you, the research findings go heavy into the science behind blowmolding this revolutionary material. Check it out here.