Global machinery builder Engel is jumping in with both feet to promote its unique Liquidmetal injection molding machine. The company is going public for the first time about its partnership with Liquidmetal. The technology was featured at the company’s recent Austrian symposium—not just as an interesting technology demonstration, but as a major development—and Engel also just issued a press release providing new details about how its equipment works.
It’s an important development for Liquidmetal, a 1990s spinoff from Caltech that has struggled to find its footing while racking up huge losses.
The company’s decision four or so years ago to focus on injection molding as its target manufacturing method was an important one because of the ability of the molding process to mass produce net shapes. Liquidmetal had no real manufacturing experience and desperately needed a partner. Engel’s willingness to participate was a critical factor, and one the company would only acknowledge in cursory fashion in response to direct questions. Engel’s involvement was virtually ignored by much of the global trade press until the recent symposium.
Here are a few tidbits from the press release:
Liquidmetal alloys are fed into the injection unit as slugs cut from round rods. These blanks are then melted inductively under a high vacuum condition in a melting chamber. A piston pushes the liquid into a mold where it is cooled very rapidly in an oxygen-free environment to create the amorphous structure, which is the important calling card to the Liquidmetal alloys. It’s a significantly more complicated process than standard plastic injection molding in which shear heat from screws is used to prepare the mixture for injection into a mold.
The fact remains that no injection molders have yet ordered an Engel Liquidmetal machine, although at least one (Phillips-Medisize) has been watching the technology closely for several years. It’s still not clear if the high expense of the materials and equipment are justified by the additional value it offers.