Growing Metal Structure

like a tree:

Modumetal uses nanotechnology — manipulation of matter at the molecular level — to micromanage at a very small scale to better control the conditions and substances through which electroplating occurs. Basically, the company grows metal on a surface in a way that makes it easier to shape and tinker with the material’s characteristics. Lomasney says it’s similar to how nature controls the environment related to a tree’s growth— sunlight, soil, location, temperature—and then creates a tree that is a product those conditions.

This is the sort of thing that Eric talked about in Engines of Creation almost thirty years ago. It’s one of the reasons that any plans NASA has for Mars missions decades from now are already obsolete.

5 comments on this post.
  1. MikeR:

    Would have been nice if the article explained _the main points_. What are they doing exactly to get the metal “to grow like a tree”, and how is it like a tree, and how is that different from everyone else who does 3-D printing (laser sinter…) of metal?

  2. Tom Billings:

    Go to http://www.modumetal.com/technology/

    Click the *upper* video box (the lower box is a researcher saying how great their tech is and only adding that it’s done all in a single tank) The upper video shows a “specialized” current electroplating multiple materials in alternation onto a mandrel. No numbers anywhere are given. In the upper video this looks like the layers of growth rings in a tree, and probably is the origins of their “growing metal” claim.

  3. Paul Milenkovic:

    Axlotl vats of the Tleilaxu from the Dune novels?

  4. MikeD:

    Kinda makes one (me) think of the old farts when Yeager broke sound barrier or Armstrong walked on the moon & their rightful dismay at not seeing where it would all end. Of course, had they known, they’d have been mightily disappointed.
    Said tho’t brought on as I’m late 70’s w/COPD, just hope the post-millennial cohort can turn things around, cuz facebook/twitter/et al certainly “ain’t” goin’ to do it!

  5. Stan:

    The company is interesting, but some of there claims seem to be either naive as to their value proposition, or deliberately misleading about the technology. ( perhaps to cloak IP issues )

    The Modumetal coating will compete against what industry refers to as “corrosion & wear resistant coatings”. For corrosion coatings, industries typically rely upon zinc or zinc alloy ( Ni, Fe, Co ) coatings. ( Hot dip galvanizing, electroplated films with chromate coatings ) For wear resistance in oil & gas, we are talking about coatings like hard chrome, ( from hexavalent ion solutions ) electroless nickel, or perhaps flame spray coatings like tungsten carbide.

    None of these technologies, as well as Modumetal;s, utilizes cheap, energy insensitive raw materials. They all use highly refined, pure feedstocks for the anodes, wire, etc. Modumetal, being an aqeaous based electrodeposition process involving metal salts with significant spread across the voltage potential required for reduction of each metal species, must also be using organic additives in the working electrolyte ( think of EDTA ) to complex the metals so that they can codeposit together into an alloy. Modumetals IP likely lays in these complexing & grain refining additives, and the interaction they have a various voltages, when either straight DC or pulse plated onto the cathode. They can manipulate the alloy ratios to give the coating corrosion protection or wear resistance as the plated deposit grown in thickness. Existing technologies already to this but it requires multiple steps ( think of the coppper-nickel-chrome plating on automobiles ) Existing processes use multiple nickel coatings that introduce sulfur into one layer, changing the nobility, and thereby provide a sacrificial layer for corrosion of the ferrous substrate. Modumetal claims are to be able to do this all out of the same electrolyte, and seemingly get better performance than processes that do it one step. Only time will tell.

    Modumetal’s process will be highly dependent on flow conditions in the surface boudary layer, as well as the current density variation on shapes with difficult geometry. It will be easy for strip steel, but then it must withstand post forming, punching, welding etc. which will change the properties where the metal is worked. The ideal high value application will be to plate over exisiting substrates as the final step in forming a finished good, not as a front end process that will see significant post forming operations.