Liquidmetal Technologies is working on an “eco system” of intellectual property in its efforts to commercialize its amorphous metal injection molding business.
“We have patents and applications on alloys, the machines, processing, the molds and on the applications, such as using Liquidmetal to make golf clubs or enclosures,” CEO Tom Steipp told The Molding Blog. ”Today we have 57 issued patents and 56 patent applications and they span that full spectrum.”
Engel developed an injection molding machine that replaces plastication (feed and screw) with a crucible fitted with an induction coil to heat the alloy. A plunger pushes the metal into a mold.
“The early versions of that worked sufficient to make tens of thousands of parts a month…We are making modifications that are making the process simpler and less expensive. We are constantly working to improve the quality of the process, that is the repeatability. Those are the areas of the patents. There are a lot more parts in the machine in our production facility than the one that is in our lab.”
The production machine is making watch parts for Swatch under a licensing agreement, and also multiple prototypes for a variety of applications. Steipp would not comment if the Engel machine at its production partner in Denver is making consumer electronic parts for Apple, which also has a licensing agreement with Liquidmetal Technologies. Visser Precisioncast operates as acontract manufacturer for Liquidmetal. Its materials’ partner is Materion (Mayfield Heights, Ohio).
One of the technology’s key assets is super strength. The strength to weight ratio of Liquidmetal is 1.7 times better than titanium, 2.5 times that of stainless steel, and 5.6 times better than aluminum. Current mechanical applications are designed based on what conventional metals technology can deliver. “We find that very few applications push our metals to the point of failure,” Steipp said in the interview.
Costs per part are approximately $60 to $100. Current maximum part weight is 100 grams. Maximum yield is about 80%. Material from the runner and plunger “cookie” can be re-used. Maximum yield is 80%, although scrap material can be reused.