We had a group of students from Thammasat University visit with us this week. They were presenting a business plan in a competition called the New Venture Championship sponsored by Intel, Tektronix, and Columbia Sports among others. The focus of their proposal was the development of new amorphous precious metal alloys that have very unique properties.
Commercially known as Liquidmetals, other popular terms are Amorphous Metals, or Bulk Metallic Glass alloys( BMG ) that describe this new metal classification. I first learned about this solid metallic material which has an amorphous atomic structure at the Santa Fe Symposium from a presentation by our good friend and colleague Boonrat.Lohwongwatana in 2007.
This is how it works…..When conventional precious metal alloys are cooled from their molten state, atoms quickly rearrange themselves into ordered lattice spaces and quickly crystallize. The premise for BMG alloys is that the crystallization process is avoided by a cooling rate fast enough to “freeze” the melt in its amorphous state like glass.
These resulting alloys possess exceptional mechanical properties. For example, when compared with their crystalline counterparts, their hardness is almost triple and they exhibit a lighter specific gravity karat for karat. For instance, an 18K YG wedding band in BMG is 20% lighter than its crystalline counterpart but looks identical is size and appearance. They also have minimal solidification shrinkage (one percent or less) in casting.
Imagine…cast two identical 18K college rings…one in a traditional 18K crystalline alloy and one in an 18K BMG. The BMG is 20% lighter than it’s crystalline twin and three times harder.
While the process is viable, there are still many hurdles to commercialize BMG’s. At present we need to use super cooled metal molds like those used in die casting which are not practical for complex jewelry geometries. Research continues to find ways to find ceramics suitable for investment casting but this will take some time to perfect. Techform Advanced Casting will no doubt be a leader in development using their hybrid ceramic systems for platinum, palladium and stainless steel. A replacement for the typical gypsum refractory materials used for gold and silver however will certainly be a challenge for ceramicists around the world.
If you want to really know what the future will bring for jewelry technology, why not invest in your own future by attending the Santa Fe Symposium next month or if you are in Chicago for the Instore Show this weekend stop by the Techform Booth # 204 and say hello…I look forward to seeing you there…