Material Focus: Amorphous Alloys


Your Apple product will eventually be made of an amorphous metal- Vitreloy. This is a member of a strange family of alloys called amorphous metals, otherwise known as liquidmetals. Amorphous alloys are metals that do not have a crystalline structure (if you have ever seen a broken piece of cast iron I’m sure you probably noticed the dull, gray crystalline structure) but they instead have a liquid/glass like composition. These amorphous metal alloys are much stronger than their crystalline metal counterparts, so parts can be lighter.

Liquid Technologies, inc is a spinoff of a long Caltech/NASA/DOE research project into amorphous metals. While Vitreloy has been commercially available since 2003, it is relatively expensive and we have not yet seen widespread use of the material- but that may change soon- Liquid Technologies granted Apple an exclusive license to use their alloys for consumer electronics last year.

An amazing thing about liquidmetals is that once formed, they can be reheated and molded- while retaining their amorphous, non-crystalline structure. In my mind I compare this to glass- once sand, etc becomes glass, the glass can be remelted, cool, and it is still glass- it doesn’t become sand again. So, liquidmetals can be diecast, injection molded, etc. Here is an article in Nature News, another in Plastics Today, and one more.


So, watch for the Ipad3 or 4 to have a Vitreloy frame. For you bicycle riders out there, amorphous metals will be playing their part soon.

If you get a wild inclination to be a penny stock investor, Liquid Technologies is trading at 16 cents a share, search “LQMT.OB.”





Carbon Nanotube Speaker

This little speaker is made of carbon nanotubes, and it functions as a thermoacoustic speaker. Whats kind of amazing is, unlike a conventional speaker, it doesn’t have to move to make sound. This speaker makes sound by way of abrupt temperature changes that pressurize the air, sending pressure waves (sound) without actually moving. So, look forward to one day walking through the trade show and picking up a promotional wind-breaker that will play a jingle. Wall paper as our surround sound. Maybe we can even have sound canceling blinds for the city sleeper. The nanotube & graphene era will be an interesting time. This particular speaker is made by the Finnish company, Canatu. Canatu, among others, is working towards commercializing this technology.


Material Focus: Black Nickel

Black nickel plating is a nickel zinc alloy. This plating finish has a distinctive warm feeling to it- most all nickel plating has a warm color to it, but the warmth is even more apparent with the black nickel cuts down on the bright chrome-like reflections. There is a sort of vague iridescent coloration to the plating that gives more life to this finish than most other black finishes. One downside is that  bright black nickel plate will take on fingerprints like nothing else.

Material Focus: Expanded Metal

Expanded aluminum,  stainless, copper- the list goes on.  If it is a metal sheet, chances are it can be expanded.  This process is great, because there is not as much wasted material as there is when perforating  metal. With expanded metal, the metal is slit and pulled into to shape (or expanded). Perforated metal is punched or cut out, leaving waste blanks.

It has a fairly clear visual impact, is relatively inexpensive, and is usually very strong for it’s weight.  Maybe the visual impact is too strong- conjuring prisions, paddywagons, and industrial storage & machine cages. Available in a wide range of patterns, metals and gauges of metal, it seems like it warrants more use.  Tiny expanded silver, someone?

images via Flickr streams and Google images

Material Focus: Galvanized Steel

Galvanized steel is seen all over the place.  It is the little orphan workhorse of the metal finishes world- unglamorous and dependable, the hot dipped layer of zinc deposited on steel forms Zinc Oxide, the progressing to Zinc Carbonate once it hangs out with the steel long enough. If you think about where you see it, it is usually in very practical applications: agricultural silos and tanks, “tin” roofing, garden watering cans, pails, and chain-link fence.

I looked around to see if I could find examples of galvanized steel in applications where aesthetics play a more important role, but really couldn’t find much. One thing that might deter its use in more obscure applications is that welding it creates harmful fumes, so your one off- applications are less than easy.  I want to see a galvanized motorcycle tank, and that is just the start of my list.  There is something about that crystaline finish that is worth using, especially since it is so unpretentious.  Stephen Atkinson made nice architectural use of galvanized roofing here, Nicholas Murcutt made beautiful use of a galvanized agricultural tank on his “Box House” project, below.

I have not seen to many examples of galvanized steel used in furniture, though you do see it used for greenhouse potting tables from time to time. I have seen it used for some Ikea items, but one of the better uses of it that I have seen comes from Piet Van Eek, who I really admire, his cabinet below…

Here is an unusual application, on a Citroen…

And several more examples of the finish…

Material Focus: Oh Sheet Aluminum!

Formed sheet aluminum has the ability to make me weak with a greedy, covetous feeling. Here are a few nice examples:


1949 Petermax Muller , set on Flickr

Aluminum BSA

aluminum feathercraft boat

More below….

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