Personal electronics giant Apple flows into the liquid tech market with exclusive access to Liquidmetal.
Developed by a California technology company, Liquidmetal is a “revolutionary class of materials that redefines performance and cost paradigms”, if you want to believe the hype.
Actually, the hype is pretty cool, but if you look past it, it seems that the actual product might be a damn good idea.
Essentially, Liquidmetal Technologies has created a metal amalgam that contains things like Beryllium and Platinum, resulting in a liquid product that displays several interesting properties.
The first is that Liquidmetal displays an amorphous rather than standard crystalline atomic structure. In “normal” metals, atoms are laid out in repeating “sheets” that can make the metal brittle under certain conditions. Liquidmetal has an atomic structure which is effectively random, meaning that it will theoretically take a greater amount of punishment.
This is the first major claim by the Liquidmetal men – that it has a very high yield strength value. Yield strength is a measure of the maximum pressure a metal can withstand before it begins to plastically deform. It is often measured by using “KSI” or Kilo-pounds per square inch. Each KSI represents one thousand pounds of pressure per square inch, and Liquidmetal is reported to more than double the yield strength of its nearest competitor, stainless steel.
The substance is also gaining a reputation for a higher than average elastic limit which allows it to retain its original shape after being under so much pressure. The combination of its amorphous shape, high yield strength and high elastic limit has convinced Apple that it might just be the next big thing in electronics coatings. There are a few things that bear mentioning, however.
First, Liquidmetal is not actually liquid. At room temperature, the substance is solid, but looks more like glass than metal.
Second, while it is useful as a coating, it can be expensive as hell. Beryllium and Platinum are both needed in its making, the latter of which costs $1500 an ounce.
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The coatings can be cast more effectively than previous metal options used by Apple – for example the now-common aluminum coating used for MacBooks – and require almost no machining after they are produced to make them smooth, owing to their ability to retain their shape.
At this point, Apple owns the rights to use the technology exclusively, but there’s not guarantee that they will ever bother. It might simply be a way to keep competitors from developing a new coating option, or it might be the next big thing.
We figure they’ll just go with the flow.
Sources: PhysOrg, Liquidmetal Technologies