Imagine a material stronger than steel but just as versatile plastic, capable of taking a seemingly infinite variety of forms. For decades, scientists have tried to achieve such a substance that can be molded into complex shapes with the same ease and low cost of plastic, but without sacrificing strength and durability of metal.
Now a team led by Jan Schroers, a scientist at Yale University, has shown that some recently developed metallic glasses can be blow molded like plastics, acquiring complex forms that can not be achieved using normal metal without sacrificing either its strength or durability. These new alloys known as Bulk Metallic Glasses (BMG) could revolutionize for good manufacturing processes.
"These metal alloys appear normal but can be blow-molded so cheap and so easily like plastic, " says Schroers. So far, the team has created a series of complex shapes, including bottles perfect metal boxes, clocks, miniature resonators e biomedical implants, which can be cast in less than a minute and are two times stronger than normal steel.
The cost of materials is the same as the high-end steel, but can be processed so as cheap as plastic. The alloys are composed of different metals such as zirconium, nickel, titanium and copper.
The team molded alloys at low temperatures and low pressures, where the metallic glass softens and flows like plastic, but does not crystallize as a regular metal. This allowed scientists to shape BMGs with unprecedented ease.
Schroers and his team is already using its new processing technique for the fabrication of miniature resonators and MEMS-tiny mechanical devices powered by electricity-, gyroscopes and other applications.