Its expenses are rising. Its revenues are dropping. But the tide of red ink is not damping enthusiasm at what may be the most important breakthrough technology in injection molding in the 21 Century. It may go down in the history books as the most important materials’ molding technology made in America.
“It” is Liquidmetal Technologies, the California startup using amorphous metals IP developed at Caltech by Professor William Johnson in 1993.
Apple and Swatch love the technology and bought exclusive market specific rights. But the company has failed to establish a viable commercial revenue stream, and yesterday reported rising losses and a weakening cash position.
One reason that losses are rising is that hiring and R&D expenses are higher.
CEO Tom Steipp reported on a conference call that prototype shipments continue to rise, including four shipments in the first quarter to major suppliers to the oil and gas industry. Molded amorphous metal may be the perfect lining material for shaped charges used to blow holes in well casings deep underground, allowing surrounding oil and gas to rush into the well under very high pressure. The currently used linings are made of injected molded metal powder, a technology far inferior to `injection molded amorphous metal.
There are three important reasons why this application could be the savior of this brave little engine that could:
1. The amorphous metal parts are stronger. The strength-to-weight ratio of amorphous metal is off the charts.
2. Parts can be made more precisely and consistently with molded amorphous metal. Tolerances within 0.002 inches in every dimension are maintained part to part. Repeatable tolerances on MIM parts are difficult because parts shrink when autoclaved after the molding process. Final machining may be required. That adds tremendously to the costs, as well as the production time.
3. The amorphous metal parts virtually liquefy when imploded, while the metallic MIM parts could get stuck in the casing hole, defeating the purpose of a shaped charge.
Millions of these devices are used yearly by the oil and gas industry. And US activity is being spurred by shale gas development.
And maybe that is why Tom Steipp is hiring and boosting R&D costs.