Science

New material combines the strength of steel and the moldability of plastic

New material combines the stre...
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Jan Schroers and his team have developed novel metal alloys that can be blow molded into virtually any shape
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Jan Schroers and his team have developed novel metal alloys that can be blow molded into virtually any shape
Just some of the shapes and geometries that can be blow molded with BMG
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Just some of the shapes and geometries that can be blow molded with BMG
Geometries that are unachievable with any other metal process can be net-shaped using blow-molding of bulk metallic glass
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Geometries that are unachievable with any other metal process can be net-shaped using blow-molding of bulk metallic glass
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Scientists at Yale University have done what materials scientists have been trying to do for decades - create a material that boasts the look, strength and durability of metal that can be molded into complex shapes as simply and cheaply as plastic. The scientists say the development could have the same impact on society as the development of synthetic plastics last century and they have already used the novel metals to create complex shapes, such as metallic bottles, watch cases, miniature resonators and biomedical implants, that are twice as strong as typical steel and can be molded in less than a minute.

Unlike the crystalline structure found in ordinary metals that makes them strong but also results in them requiring three separate steps for processing (shaping, joining and finishing), the metal alloys recently developed by the Yale team are amorphous metals known as bulk metallic glasses (BMGs), whose randomly arranged atoms and low critical cooling rate allows them to be blow-molded into complex shapes like plastics. This allows the researchers to combine the three traditional time- and energy-intensive metal processing steps into one blow molding process that takes less than a minute.

Although the different metals used to make the alloys, such as zirconium, nickel, titanium and copper, cost about the same as high-end steel, they can be processed as cheaply as plastic, according to Jan Schroers, a materials scientist at Yale that led the team.

The BMGs ability to soften and flow as easily as plastic at low temperatures and low pressures, without crystallizing like regular metal is what allows the material to be shaped with unprecedented ease, versatility and precision, Schroers said. To ensure the ideal temperature for blow molding was maintained, the team shaped the BMGs in a vacuum or in fluid.

"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 have already fabricated a wide variety of shapes and devices using the new processing technique, including miniature resonators for microelectromechanical systems (MEMs) and gyroscopes, but they say that is just the beginning.

"This could enable a whole new paradigm for shaping metals," Schroers said. "The superior properties of BMGs relative to plastics and typical metals, combined with the ease, economy and precision of blow molding, have the potential to impact society just as much as the development of synthetic plastics and their associated processing methods have in the last century."

The new processing technique developed by the Yale researchers is described online in the current issue of Materials Today.

12 comments
Vladimir Popov
Rubbish article, Amorphous metal was here from 1960. No practical applications. Stop publishing rubbish, google it first.
Fyta
How is this different than \"Liquidmetal\"?
Eletruk
I think the big difference is that this alloy can be handled. Previous amorphous metals could only be created in ribbons by quick quenching molten metal keeping the metal crystals from forming. That limited their application to a few things like transformer windings. This alloy has huge potential, as the article describes because it can be quickly and easily formed into it\'s final shape, like glass bottles are now.
chards
Vladamir, this is not the metal from the 1960\'s. Read the original article and get off your high horse.
Josephm
I wonder about dental amalgams. These new materials are interesting.
Facebook User
How low is \"low\" temperature?
Kingsfield58
No practical applications, Vladimir? Thta\'s what WW1 generals said about the aeorplane...
TogetherinParis
Can we use injection molding machines? How about plastic = metal composite parts? And what of the metallic properties of the blow-molded metallic glass?
Facebook User
No more cheap plastic that barely works. I hope the power tool guys get right on this
Facebook User
perhaps we could use this metal in bike tubes... i\'m sick of having punctures