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21 June 2012

Liquidmetal

Liquidmetal is a fascinating material from a group of alloys often referred to as amorphous metals or metallic alloys.

They have a non-crystalline structure, just like glass, and exhibit similar shape forming characteristics while retaining conductive properties.

The potential for this new material is enormous (as you can see from my article extracts below):

At first glance a liquidmetal alloy looks similar to stainless steel, albeit with a slightly different tone and hue. The exact colour depends on the alloy's specific composition.

However, hold it in your hand and you'll notice a distinctly warmer feel than with metal. Straight from a casting mold or die, liquidmetal objects exhibit a smooth mirror-like finish. But satin or brushed finishes are also possible. 

The key attributes are super strength and resilience, high scratch and corrosion resistance, and an ability to be precision cast into complex shapes. It's a very attractive combination.

In contrast plastics are easy to shape, but simply aren't strong enough. Metals have the strength, but complex shapes are difficult to create. And glass, despite its malleability and beauty, is just too fragile.

The hardness and strength-to-weight ratio of a liquidmetal alloy are particularly impressive. Compositions containing zirconium are stronger than aerospace-grade titanium alloys, and on a par with the very latest high-strength steels and specialised composite materials.

Some manufacturers have already experimented with liquidmetal cases. One such case enabled SanDisk's Cruzer Titanium USB flash drives to withstand crush pressures of over 2,000 pounds. SanDisk chose the same material for some of their 200-series Sansa flash-based MP3 players. While Nokia's Vertu Ascent mobile phone also featured a liquidmetal case.

With such a high strength-to-weight ratio liquidmetal is extremely attractive to aerospace designers and racing engineers. These industries have the motivation, money and skills to make rapid progress in both material science and manufacturing techniques.

The impressive strength, combined with liquidmetal's elastic nature (it's many times springier than steel), makes it ideal for all kinds of sporting equipment. Examples include golf club faces, tennis racket frames and skis.

Read more Apple analysis posts.

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