Creating metal objects with 3D printers isn't new, but researchers have devised a new type of material that could change how we create metal objects with 3D printers.
NewScientist reports that researchers at North Carolina State University have created a new type of metal that remains a liquid at room temperatures, while still allowing them to build stuff with it:
“It’s difficult to create structures out of liquids, because liquids want to bead up. But we’ve found that a liquid metal alloy of gallium and indium reacts to the oxygen in the air at room temperature to form a ‘skin’ that allows the liquid metal structures to retain their shapes,” says Dr. Michael Dickey, an assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at NC State.
As you may have already guessed, the researchers envision this metal being used in 3D printers to create flexible electronics. One potential application is to create a rubber device with the liquid metal inside that would allow the device to be flexible while still remaining able to conduct electricity.
It's a solid example of the kind of innovation that could occur with the combination of 3D printing and maleable liquid metal. It may even one day lead to the creation of 3D printed electronics and batteries.
The only real thing standing in the way of its adoption is the metal's high cost. The researchers say that the metal costs about 100 times as much as your average ABS plastic. In other words, the metal would cost about $30 per pound.
If you want to learn more about the metal and its applications in 3D printing, check out the study in this month's Advanced Materials.
On a final note, here's an awesome video showing the liquid metal in action: