Austrian injection molding machine maker, Engel Holding GmbH announced that it has become the exclusive machine manufacturing partner for Liquidmetal Technologies Inc., the patent holder for a unique amorphous metal alloy.
Engel made the announcement at its St. Valentin, Austria, facility last week as part of its 2015 Symposium.
Engel, based in Schertberg, Austria, unveiled a special all-electric E-Motion injection molding machine that is designed to process the material. The machine can mold Liquidmetal parts with a cycle time of two-three minutes.
The Liquidmetal alloys are available in the form of slugs cut from round rods. These blanks are automatically fed into a melting chamber where the material is melted inductively under high vacuum conditions. Instead of a screw, the machine has a piston with which the molten metal alloy is injected into a thermo-regulated mold.
Very rapid cooling under exclusion of oxygen leads to the forming of the amorphous structure, which gives the material its unique characteristics. Robots are used to remove the finished parts. The sprue can, for example, be removed with the help of a water-jet cutting machine or mechanical shears.
Liquidmetal, based in Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif., has been the subject of much speculation in the consumer technology press for several years because Apple Inc. has the exclusive rights to use the alloy in consumer electronic devices and Swatch has the exclusive rights to use the alloy in watches. However neither firm is thought to have used the material in any significant form, although there has been speculation that iPhone SIM-ejector tools might be made from the material.
Costing 100 euros ($114) per kilogram, Liquidmetal has been considered too expensive to be used for any large applications. However, factoring in the material's unique qualities and a cycle time of just two to three minutes, the material could be a candidate for Apple's unibody laptop chassis. Currently the chassis of Apple's laptops are CNC-milled from solid ingots of aluminum, meaning wasted material and a time-intensive, 13-step process.