Using the right metal is critical when designing and manufacturing aircraft or spacecraft. If the metal is too heavy, it will force the engines to work extra hard during takeoff. But if the metal is too light, it may lack the strength needed to withstand turbulent winds 20,000+ feet above ground. Well, it appears that Boeing has found a solution to this predicament.
Recently, engineers at Boeing announced the development of a new metal for use in aerospace engineering, which it claims is stronger than titanium but lighter than steel.
The metal, dubbed “microlattice,” is the world’s lightest metal structure. Boeing says it’s so light, in fact, that it can sit on a dandelion without breaking the planet. More specifically, it’s said to be 100x lighter than Styrofoam. Don’t let that fool you into thinking it’s weak, however. Microlattice can protect an egg from cracking when dropped from a 25-story roof.
So, how does Boeing plan on using its revolutionary new metal? The company says it plans to use microlattice in aircraft flooring, seat frames and walls, though this is really just the tip of the iceberg in terms of applications.
Microlattice receives its lightweight properties from its hollow design. Boeing explains that the metal is made of an open-cellular polymer structure of hollow tubes, each of which is roughly 1,000x thinner than a strand of human hair. Engineers have worked meticulously to interconnect the hollow tubes with a wall thickness of 100 nanonmeters. Researchers came up with the idea of microlattice by exploring the biology of bone structure, which also features a network of hollow tubes.
“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 Dr. Tobias Schaedler, one of the project’s lead researchers. “We are building on our breakthrough invention of ultralight metallic microlattices and will mature this technology to be applied in the next generation of space vehicle.”
The benefits of microlattice don’t end there. Boeing says the metal’s architecture allows for full recovery from compression exceeding 50% strain, as well as exceptionally high energy absorption properties.
Will microlattice become the “go to” choice of metal for use in aerospace engineering? Only time will tell, but it’s certainly a unique material with some truly remarkable properties.
You can learn more about microlattice by checking out the official Boeing website at http://www.boeing.com/features/2015/10/innovation-lightest-metal-10-15.page.