Engel, Apple Extend Liquidmetal Deals

Engel has extended its exclusive rights to manufacture and sell injection molding machines for an innovative amorphous metal process that appears to be heading for a bigger role in the production of Apple devices, particularly mobile phones.

Engel and Liquidmetal Technologies, which acquired rights to the amorphous metal

Cross section shows how glass would be insert molded in Liquidmetal (USPTO)

Cross section shows how glass would be insert molded in Liquidmetal (USPTO)

technology from Caltech in the 1990s, signed a new exclusive license agreement for a 10-year term. Engel can sell machines to LMT licensees in exchange for royalties based on a percentage of the net sales price of the machinery.

In what was considered a critical turning point for the LMT process, which has had trouble gaining traction, commercial parts shipments using Engel’s third-generation injection molding machine began in March, 2012.

In another development, LMT is now free to find multiple manufacturers for its process, a critical issue for many large companies such as Apple that have been burned by single-source suppliers in the past.

LMT filed a document with the SEC last week announcing that it is freed from its commitment to use Visser Precision Cast LLC (VPC)  as its exclusive contract manufacturer, and VPC is freed from its commitment to use Liquidmetal as its exclusive sales and R&D channel. In addition, the companies agreed to dismiss their private arbitration and have settled and released all claims and disputes between them.

“We expect a network of manufacturers to leverage their customer relationships to readily identify promising applications, and to leverage their quality certifications and qualified supplier status to rapidly qualify parts for production.” LMT CEO Thomas Steipp said in a statement.  “We believe that the ultimate beneficiaries will be our customers, who we expect will see, given multiple sources of supply, a more dynamic market for amorphous metal products with faster deployment of commercial technology and broader product offerings in all our target markets. We expect this arrangement to enable overall market growth to occur at a much more rapid rate.”

VPC made significant investment in development technology for mold design and post-molding production processes for LMT.

“We have proven the promise of this technology for several high-value applications,” said VPC President Ryan Coniam. “As an example, VPC manufactured missile canards for Lockheed Martin’s EAPS missile program, demonstrating the exacting tolerances that can be met with injection molded amorphous metal. VPC is also providing commercial-scale manufacturing for one of Liquidmetal’s licensees, demonstrating our capability to manufacture amorphous metal parts in large volumes.”

One of the licensees is Apple, which recently extended its collaboration with LMT for another year.

So far the only Apple production part has been a SIM card ejector tool. But Apple clearly has its sites set on bigger targets. One example was disclosed in an Apple patent that was granted this week. The patent covers insert molding of a transparent frame such as glass in a Liquidmetal tool. The method overcomes tolerance problems associated with other assembly methods.

LMT receives revenues from upfront license payments (Apple, Swatch), recurring royalty streams, and production of Liquidmetal parts for customers. The company had revenues of just $160,000 in the first quarter as most of its work remains developmental.

Liquidmetal has an amorphous, liquid-like atomic structure in its solid state and as a result is stronger because it does not have internal boundaries that create weak regions or break points. It’s more than twice as strong as titanium or stainless steel yet can be molded in a manner similar to thermoplastics (though more complicated).  Parts are scratch resistant.



About Doug Smock

Former Chief Editor at Plastics World and Senior Technical Editor Design News

Aircraft, Amorphous Metals, Consumer Goods, Design, Electronics, Insert Molding, Metal Injection Molding (MIM), North America , , ,

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