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Lighter, Stronger Metallic Bubble Wrap Developed

Metallic bubble wrap

Metallic bubble wrap (Afsaneh Rabiei, North Carolina State University)

Engineers at North Carolina State University in Raleigh created a flexible metal foam material that’s lighter and stronger than sheet metal, but more heat and chemical resistant than plastic bubble wraps. The team of Advanced Materials Research Lab director Afsaneh Rabiei and doctoral candidate Di Miao presented their findings on 24 June at the Conference on Porous Metals and Metallic Foams in Raleigh.

The NC State team developed the material to provide impact protection in thin openings, no more than a few millimeters. Not only must the material fit in a very confined space, it must also protect the contents and withstand bends and twists. They anticipate the aluminum-based material could be used in automobile body panels, airplane wings, helmets, electronics cases, and suitcases.

Rabiei and Miao used a studded metal roller to create indentations in a thin sheet of aluminum that they filled with a foaming agent, such as calcium carbonate. Another thin aluminum sheet covers the indentations with the foaming agent, and pressure from a heavy roller seals together the two aluminum sheets. The researchers then heated the bonded aluminum sheets, with the heat decomposing the foaming agency and creating bubbles in the aluminum.

The NC State team tested mechanical and physical properties of the metal foam material against equivalent bulk sheet metal. They found the metal bubble material weighs 20 to 30 percent less than sheet metal, but offers 30 to 50 percent more bending strength. The  metal bubble material’s tensile strength — the amount of stress it can handle before failing — is nearly the same as non-bubble metal.

“The way we created this material could be used for any sheet metal, not just aluminum,” says Rabiei. “We plan to further develop our metallic bubble wrap and hope it eventually offers better protection for products and the public.”

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