As Liquidmetal technology gains exposure to engineers in a variety of industries, applications that stand to benefit from the process are illuminated. The automotive industry has a vast landscape of components, each requiring a very specific set of attributes. These attributes are often mission critical, as the safety of millions is on the line.
“The watch features a bi-directional, rotating diving bezel, made from black, polished ceramic, combined with a LiquidMetal® 12 hour scale, so that time can be kept with any country in the world.”
There are many manufacturing methods and materials available to designers of metal components today. The processes each offer different benefits but are never without trade-offs. Similarly, different materials allow for a wide range of performance characteristics, but not without a certain cost.
With a host of procedures covering a wide range of physical demands, minimally invasive medical devices are produced by the millions every year. Common procedures include: Aortic valve surgery, appendectomies, biopsy tumors, and arthroscopy of most joints. Many devices or the components they are composed of contain parts that are currently CNC machined, injection molded, investment cast, stamped, or fine blanked. Liquidmetal technology is often a good alternative to these expensive, time-consuming processes.
Liquidmetal alloys’ strongest asset is likely its incredible precision and repeatability. When it comes to surgery on the human body, every patient and doctor demands the highest level of precision and accuracy from the equipment used. Liquidmetal alloys offer precision in relatively uncharted territory with part-to-part variation at 0.0003-0.0006” and dimensional tolerances at 0.0005- 0.0015”. CNC machining generally can achieve part-to-part variation of 0.0005-0.0010” and dimensional tolerances of 0.0007-0.0015”.
Durability is a critical factor in all medical equipment, but especially components that are expected to perform with high precision in harsh environments. Liquidmetal alloys’ strength, hardness, and corrosion resistance perform equally or better than commonly used materials like 17-4PH, 316L and 420 stainless steels.
Sporting arms components face a unique set of challenges and requirements because of the complexity and nature of the equipment. Market demands typically incorporate weight, durability, customization, and precision as areas for improvement. Manufacturers often face cost or technology restrictions when considering which of these technology improvements they will incorporate into a part. This case study outlines how Liquidmetal technology could overcome many trade-offs manufacturers must make when designing and producing a sporting arms component.
With Liquidmetal alloys – what you mold is what you get. This means custom designs like laser etching, hand engravings, or CNC machined markings can be molded into the part with remarkable precision. A part normally hand engraved can now be replicated thousands of times, with only one engraving on the mold cavity surface.
Engineers face an extra challenge when designing and manufacturing metal parts for marine applications. The harsh oceanic environment wears on equipment with the corrosive nature of salt, along with other unforgiving natural elements. SCUBA equipment must not only withstand these elements, but also perform at a high-level throughout the life of the product. Because of this challenging environment, it can be difficult to find a material that is corrosion resistant, economical, durable, and lightweight.
With all the above factors in mind, this case study will dive into Liquidmetal alloys’ potential performance in SCUBA equipment – specifically the regulator system. Regulator systems require significant durability, precision, low weight, and has improved in recent years with the integration of titanium alloys. Titanium regulator components have allowed manufacturers to develop SCUBA equipment that is more durable and significantly lighter than previous materials, two critical attributes. Liquidmetal amorphous alloys outperform titanium in almost every specification; including strength, hardness, and density.
One of our most popular case studies compares various manufacturing methods for a missile component that controls flight. Supersonic missiles are highly sensitive to the exact geometry of control surfaces and precision is mission critical. Canards (French for “duck”) are the pivoting fins attached to the side body of missiles ahead of the main wing that provide stability and maneuverability for a projectile. Supersonic missiles must also shift between subsonic and supersonic speeds and canards affect the airflow against the main wing, altering the center of mass, and shifting the aerodynamic center. Thus, any deviation in geometric specifications will greatly affect flight control, causing extra turbulence and unanticipated movement.
Surgical stapling procedures have been in practice for over 100 years. Hungarian physician Dr. Humor Hultl is credited as the first surgeon to utilize stapling on a patient. Various stapling devices have been developed over the years, but the basic concept is unchanged and relies heavily on anvils with “precisely shaped pockets” to produce well-formed and secure staples. Typical surgical staples utilize stainless steel and titanium alloys which fire with controlled force sometimes excising and joining tissues simultaneously.
A recent project, along with your feedback, has resulted in successful chess set designs by our summer intern, Cassidy Stevick.
Several people suggested a simple Staunton design to enable players to more easily distinguish the rank and position of the pieces. We have chosen to incorporate a few of these design elements, yet remain close to the original Liquidmetal theme. Traditional Staunton designs are technically possible, but please allow me to explain our intent and direction.
One of the prototypes that we have produced recently is moving closer to production. The prototype showcases the extraordinary elastic properties of Liquidmetal as a clamp. To protect customer confidentiality, we have disguised the geometry but are reporting actual results. We hope these will be of interest to other existing and potential customers.
In the first prototypes, two clamp spring designs were evaluated. A comparable steel solution would be expected to lose efficacy within 100 cycles, as the steel would yield and the clamp force would decrease. For this prototype design, a goal of at least 200 cycles without a decrease in the clamp force was specified. The clamp needed to be opened to create a gap close to the diameter of the circular clamp when closed (about 12mm).
Liquidmetal alloy has high resistance to corrosion for a number of reasons. Firstly, crystal defects, such as grain boundaries and dislocations, can act like galvanic cells to initiate localized corrosion – Liquidmetal does not have any such defects. Secondly, the elements we use in Liquidmetal form mechanically stable oxides which act as a passivating layer. Thirdly, the passivating layers form uniformly on the Liquidmetal surface, and so passivating elements are more effective than similar elements in a crystalline alloy.
Over the years, Liquidmetal Technologies have done various corrosion studies on our materials, and we are taking the chance to summarize some of the results here.
The Liquidmetal team emphasizes innovation and idea generation from within, and outside the company. A recent exciting design exploits the remarkable elastic properties of our material.
UPDATE: The Liquidmetal Hybrid Knife is now available for purchase on our website. Formed using the Liquidmetal process, the hybrid knife is artistically designed and backed by a breakthrough technology. The two-piece knife is not a fixed blade or a folding knife, relying on the incredible precision of the Liquidmetal process to create a tight fit between the blade and protector. You can read more about the science and R&D behind the Liquidmetal Knife in a case study here.
Because Liquidmetal alloy is hard like a ceramic, stiff like steel, elastic like a plastic, and corrosion resistant like it has been given an expensive coating, a keen area of interest is in blade or blade-like applications. This is not surprising, especially given the nearest-to-net shape moldability of our alloy. In fact, we are currently investigating new applications where precise piercing of metal foils with high repeatability are required.
In the parts industry there are mechanical parts (brackets, frames, mounts, housings, etc.) which drive product performance, and cosmetic parts (bezels, cases, trim, grilles, etc.) which drive product appeal.
Often, a part is required which attempts to fulfil both these functions, but with limitations in one area or the other. Cosmetic materials such as brass, silver, gold, and platinum do not typically have extraordinary strength, stiffness, hardness or wear resistance. On the other hand, widely used engineering materials such as titanium, steel, and copper alloys are difficult to make appealing to the eye without expensive coatings or paint which are themselves subject to scratching, flaking, and oxidizing.
Why Liquidmetal? A Liquidmetal case is nearly indestructible, has a beautiful as-cast mirror finish, and is highly resistant to scratches and corrosion. Each case produced from Liquidmetal has exactly the same shape, allowing parts to fit together precisely. In addition, a Liquidmetal case can be opened and closed thousands of times without the slightest deformation, even when subject to extreme force. The same is true for clamps, whether used as part of a case design or other device. A Liquidmetal clamp will hold with the same force after thousands of uses.
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is widely used for imaging soft tissue in clinical and pre-clinical medicine for many reasons. Not only does MRI provide excellent contrast between various tissue types, but it does not require the use of ionizing radiation such as x-rays (CT Scanners) or gamma-rays (PET scanners). The theory of MRI is based on the interaction of subatomic particles with magnetic fields in a process called nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR), which describes how atomic nuclei with a quantum property called ‘spin’ precess in a magnetic field the same way that a gyroscope or a spinning-top precesses in the earth’s gravitational field (if you’re not familiar with gyroscope precession, watch this video).
For this reason, the primary component of an MRI scanner is a very powerful magnet, which generates a very strong magnetic field (typically 1.5-3 Tesla, or about 3,000 times the strength of the Earth’s magnetic field) where the object is being imaged, and also in the region surrounding the magnet.
There is a secret to designing an explosive device that penetrates heavy armor. More than a hundred years ago designers discovered a munitions device is more powerful when the explosive material is pressed into a concave shape on the open end of the casing, creating a cavity. When detonated, at just the right distance from the target, the force of a shaped charge can penetrate the thickest armor. When the cavity is covered by a copper or glass liner, the force from the explosive is much stronger. While in use for decades, the properties of this phenomenon were not fully understood. Pioneering work from the world-renowned Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory now allows the properties of the supersonic jet that escapes from lined shaped charges upon detonation to be accurately modeled. Detonation forces the liner to collapse inwardly with tremendous force, projecting a tightly focused jet of liner material with enormous energy.