Oct 15, 2015 | By Benedict

Aerospace company Boeing have released a short film demonstrating the huge potential of their unique 3D printed microlattice material, which they believe to be the world’s lightest metal. The material, first developed in 2011 by Boeing subsidiary HRL Laboratories for the Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), is roughly one hundred times lighter than Styrofoam, with walls one thousand times thinner than a human hair. With a density of just 0.9 mg/cc, the material is a metal microlattice made of interconnected hollow tubes, which makes it extremely resilient against compression and affords it a high level of absorption.

HRL have used 3D printing technology to create the groundbreaking metal. The essential architecture is formed using a template using a photosetting polymer. The photopolymer is then cured with UV light, which creates a 3D form composed of struts and supports. The template is then plated with ultra-thin, electroless nickel. The thermopolymer template material, previously supporting the structure, is removed by etching, leaving only the metallic skin behind.

The short film hints that Boeing are looking into using the ultralight 3D printed material in their aeroplanes, where it could be used for wall and floor panels and other non-mechanical parts. A reduction in mass would make the aircraft far more fuel efficient, which would benefit the company massively.

HRL was able to make the material, consisting of 99.99% open volume, by designing the 0.01% of solid structure at the nanometer, micron and millimetre scales. “The trick is to fabricate a lattice of interconnected hollow tubes with a wall thickness of 100 nanometers, 1,000 times thinner than a human hair,” said Science writer Dr. Tobias Schaedler when assessing HRL’s original unveiling.

The material’s unique composition gives it properties unlike other metals. Its cellular architecture permits complete recovery from compression exceeding 50% strain and extraordinarily high energy absorption. Boeing’s short video clearly demonstrates the 3D printed material being squashed, before returning to its original shape. The aerospace juggernaut even references the infamous “egg drop challenge” to prove its point, claiming that the material could be used to safely absorb the shock received by an egg dropped from 25 storeys. Sadly, Boeing’s shirt film provides no empirical evidence of this feat being achieved.

The microscopic structure of the microlattice has been compared to human bone structure, with it’s rigid exterior and near-hollow interior. It has also been likened to larger parallel structures in architecture. “Modern buildings, exemplified by the Eiffel Tower or the Golden Gate Bridge, are incredibly light and weight-efficient by virtue of their architectures,” explained Dr. Bill Carter, manager of the Architected Materials Group at HRL. “We are revolutionizing lightweight materials by bringing this concept to the materials level and designing their architectures at the nano and micro scales.”

We are excited to see how Boeing eventually implement the 3D printed microlattice. We just hope that increased fuel efficiency leads to cheaper flights!



Posted in 3D Printing Applications



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David wrote at 1/12/2018 1:04:06 PM:

Although strong as a whole, individual 'cells' will be weak. How a damage will affect the rest is still a question.

Sophia wrote at 9/10/2016 2:56:02 AM:

Is it possible to use microlattice as a material to make things using a 3d printer?

karthick wrote at 2/1/2016 12:19:13 PM:

can i get that metal?

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