More than 200 guests accepted the invitation from the Austrian machine manufacturer to visit the Liquidmetal Forum at its subsidiary in southwestern Germany. "The number of registrations far exceeded our expectations," says a pleased Claus Wilde, Managing Director at Engel Deutschland and head of the Technologieforum Stuttgart, who opened the event. The forum, which was originally planned to last just one day, was prolonged to last two days because of the unexpectedly high number of registrations. The guests came not only from the territory served by the subsidiary, but from all regions of Germany, as well as from Austria, Switzerland, France, Great Britain and Sweden. Only about half of the companies represented were already customers of Engel. Besides plastics processors, many metal processors also took the opportunity to get to know the new technology and Engel.While the injection moulding machines, robots and system solutions from Engel had previously been solely for processing polymeric material, the machine manufacturer is now also opening new vistas of quality and efficiency for metal processing.
Completely new material characteristicsThe name Liquidmetal stands for a group of zirconium-based alloys that have been developed by Liquidmetal Technologies of Rancho Santa Margarita, California. As the exclusive engineering partner, Engel is the only supplier in the world offering machinery and system solutions for the injection moulding of these materials. A third partner is Materion Corporation, the material producer and distributor based in Mayfield Heights, Ohio. During the Forum event, the three partners jointly presented the new materials, injection moulding for processing them efficiently, and the potential they have for applications.
The participants were impressed above all by the completely innovative material characteristics. "Thanks to their amorphous, non-crystalline structure, components made of Liquidmetal are extremely hard, but at the same time very elastic, which leads to very good recovery behaviour," as Steffen Mack, Business Development Manager at Materion, explains in his presentation. "They have low specific weight, are corrosion-resistant and biocompatible." The fact that the alloys can be processed in injection moulding is a further advantage compared to other metal materials, because this makes particularly efficient, highly automated and integrated processing methods possible. In only one step, injection moulding delivers fit-for-purpose components with very high quality surfaces.
"These characteristics are fascinating for anyone who works with plastics or metals," says Heinz Rasinger, Vice President Engel teletronics. "Now it is all about the question of how we can make the best possible use of these characteristics. We have discussed some very concrete ideas together with the participants at our forum. The results have shown that it will be less a question of substituting the material in existing products, but much rather how we can design components in a way that can take full advantage of the potential of the material. What we experienced during these two days is an almost euphoric optimism, comparable with the emergence of thermoplastics."