Innovative Bubble Wrap Made From Metal Developed

A new metallic bubble wrap has been produced that holds significant advantages over both metal and plastic counterparts.

The material was developed at North Carolina State University by a team led by Dr. Afsaneh Rabiei, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at the university. The announcement was one of the highlights of the recent International Conference on Porous Metals and Metallic Foams, where Dr. Rabiei gave a presentation on the bubble wrap and how it was produced.

Decomposing foaming agent

The process used to produce the bubble wrap may strike a chord with people familiar with baking. The air bubbles in the metal are created by a decomposing foaming agent (examples include calcium carbonate and titanium hydrate), in a similar way to baking soda causing a cake to rise.

First, small indentations were made into a thin sheet of aluminium, into which the foaming agent was deposited. Next, a further sheet of aluminium was placed on top, and the two sheets were bonded together using a heavy meal roller. This was then placed in a furnace, where the high temperature caused the breakdown of the foaming agent, giving rise to the air bubble inclusions.

Researchers at North Carolina State University have developed a new metallic bubble wrap that is lighter, stronger and more flexible than sheet metal and more heat- and chemical-resistant than plastic or other polymer-based bubble wraps. Photo Credit: Afsaneh Rabiei

Superior heat and chemical resistance

This deceptively simple material looks to have a number of beneficial properties which

would make it the natural choice over more well established materials. For example, compared to conventional bubble wraps created from plastics and other polymers, the metallic bubble wrap has superior heat and chemical resistance.

Moreover, the bubble wrap is stronger, lighter, and more flexible when compared to standard sheet metal. It weighs 20-30% less, offers an increase in bending strength of 30-50%, and has a virtually identical tensile strength to the standard sheet metal.

For protective materials to be commercially useful they must be strong enough to adequately protect the contents within, whilst still being flexible and thin enough to fit into small spaces and withstand various degrees of twisting and bending. It appears that Dr. Rabiei’s creation satisfies these criteria easily, as Dr. Rabiei explains below:

"This material does exactly what sheet metal and other bubble wraps do, but better," "And it won't cost businesses and consumers very much because producing it requires just a few steps."

Applied to different metals

The potential applications of the bubble wrap are numerous, with some of the most interesting listed below:

  •  Wing edges of airplanes
  •  Helmets
  •  Casing for electronic devices
  •  Suitcases
  •  Vehicle body panels

Particularly interesting is the relative ease with which the process can be applied to different metals and alloys other than aluminium. This could open the door for a much wider range of applications, as the metal used in the process can be specifically tailored to the needs of the user. The ease of the process will also appeal to manufacturers, as it requires only a few steps.

Dr. Rabiei explains her hope for the future with regards to the new innovation:

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

Original source: North Carolina State University

G.P. Thomas

Written by

G.P. Thomas

Gary graduated from the University of Manchester with a first-class honours degree in Geochemistry and a Masters in Earth Sciences. After working in the Australian mining industry, Gary decided to hang up his geology boots and turn his hand to writing. When he isn't developing topical and informative content, Gary can usually be found playing his beloved guitar, or watching Aston Villa FC snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

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