Monday, December 17, 2007
Standardized control system
Despite all their differences in size, Buhler die casting machines do have one thing in common: their control system design. “The quality of a die cast component is determined by numerous different parameters,” explains Achim Klotz. “Our sophisticated sensor system and the appropriate control software allow all our installations to be controlled in real time.” The same control system design is used for all types included in the Buhler range of die casting equipment. This means that an operator trained on one machine will have no trouble operating all the others.
Though Buhler customers are still ordering stand-alone die casting machines, the trend is increasingly toward purchasing complete systems. Buhler supplies not only of individual machines, but complete die casting cells, including all the necessary peripheral functions such as molten metal feed, die spraying, and parts extraction. Ultimately, Buhler customers want turnkey installations which they can utilize productively without delay.” The Buhler Die Casting specialists master all the intricacies of the art of die casting and are constantly fine-tuning the overall process to increase productivity and reduce unit costs.
Liquidmetal, because of its unique attributes (Strength to weight ratio, Young's modulus, corrosion resistance, etc.) has an excellent opportunity to displace many of the magnesium and aluminum and titanium applications.
Friday, December 14, 2007
For many investment managers, sector positioning is a key driver of performance. During the long bull market of the 1990s, technology was the place to be, as investors were willing to overlook the sector's ever-richer valuation and focus instead on the promise of the Internet. That gave way to a more sober view, leading to the Internet bust and an extended period of sector underperformance.Tech's Comeback
Yes, tech is back, but this time it's leading the market higher because of its rising profits and solid fundamentals. Year-to-date through Nov. 30, the Goldman Sachs Composite Technology Index was up 15.51%, as compared to 6.23% for the S&P 500 Index.
While tech moves to the fore, the subprime loan mess has punished financial companies, a group that had been among the market's leaders throughout this decade. Year-to-date through Nov. 30, the Lipper Financial Services Funds Index lost money, with a return of -10.86%.
This pro-tech, anti-financials market has been a boon to investors in the Nasdaq-100 Index, which is made up of 100 of the largest domestic and international non-financial stocks listed on the exchange based on market capitalization. With close to 60% of its market cap in technology, the Index has gained 19.43% this year, but is still trading at less than half its all time high of roughly 4587, which it reached in Mar. 2000.
Why Tech is No. 1 Indicator to Index Performance
In addition to the big U.S. tech names such as Microsoft, Apple and Google, the Nasdaq-100 has exposure to overseas companies (Canada's Research in Motion, India’s Infosys and Ireland’s Ryanair) and a number of big retailers (Bed Bath & Beyond, Costco and Whole Foods). The Index's ability to stretch its run of outperformance into 2008 depends on whether technology can keep outperforming and, to a lesser extent, the financials keep lagging.
So far, technology issues have escaped the worst of market's subprime-related declines, but in a recent earnings report, Cisco Chairman John Chambers surprised investors by saying his firm's falling sales to financial companies could have an impact on the bottom line. Even though Cisco’s earnings were solid, his statement caused the market to question the sector’s vulnerability to an overall economic slowdown and caused a sharp selloff in the big tech names.
But, according to Wellington Management Company’s Scott Simpson, fundamentals in many tech sub-sectors remains quite positive. "While U.S. enterprise spending is soft, worldwide enterprise spending remains strong," he says. "IT spending in the Asia-Pacific region is growing at around 9% a year and China is already the third-largest purchaser of technology products."
On the consumer side, Simpson says demand for feature-rich phones, including music phones and smart phones, as well as the continued transition to 3G wireless technology, remains strong and should drive revenue higher for select handset and component manufacturers.
Thursday, December 13, 2007
Liquidmetal(R) Technologies and Buhler Die Casting, a Leading Global Manufacturer of Die Casting Equipment, Form Strategic Relationship
RANCHO SANTA MARGARITA, Calif.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Dec. 13, 2007--
Liquidmetal(R) Technologies, Inc. (OTCBB:LQMT) today announced the signing of a manufacturing agreement with Bühler Druckguss AG, through its wholly owned subsidiary BuhlerPrince, Inc., Holland, Michigan to manufacture the next generation of die casting equipment for Liquidmetal alloys. The long awaited advancement to the next generation of manufacturing technology expands the applications and feasibility of deploying the Company's Liquidmetal alloys to an even broader range of industries and products. The new machine, which is the result of collaboration by both companies, is now completed and is available for immediate deployment.
Buhler, headquartered in Uzwil, Switzerland, is a global leader in the supply of process engineering solutions. Buhler is present in over 140 countries and employs some 6,600 people. Buhler Die Casting, a division of the Buhler Group, is a leading manufacturer of cold-chamber die casting machines in Europe, North America, and large parts of Asia, renowned in the marketplace for its cutting-edge systems for real-time control of die casting machines. Under the terms of the agreement, Buhler Die Casting will develop, manufacture and supply die casting equipment to the Company and licensees of the Liquidmetal technology to manufacture products made of Liquidmetal alloys on a global basis.
John Kang, Chairman of Liquidmetal Technologies, stated, "By partnering with Buhler Die Casting, we have engaged the most experienced experts in die casting technology to advance the manufacturing capabilities of today's most revolutionary materials technology in Liquidmetal alloys. By equipping our Company and our licensees with these next generation machines, our Liquidmetal technology reaches a new level of manufacturing and processing capabilities with lower costs and higher quality."
Mark Los, President and CEO of BuhlerPrince, added, "Liquidmetal alloys present an exciting technology with growing market opportunities across a broad range of industries and applications. Buhler is pleased to bring our extensive, worldwide experience in die casting equipment into our collaboration with Liquidmetal Technologies."
One prototype has been manufactured. It is a modification of the basic BuhlerPrince 200 ton cold-shot injection die casting machine. Upon receipt of order, a quantity of 12 to 15 machines may be produced simultaneously. From date of order, manufacturing and testing in Holland, MI and delivery to end-user, installation, set-up of test mold and testing at end-user facility takes a cycle of about 120 days.
Deployment of machines to both Korea and at least one licensee are expected during 1st quarter of 2008.
One fully trained operator skilled in die-casting can operate two fully automated 200 ton Buhler die casting machines, a great improvement over the manual machines currently operated in Korea and China. The cycle time has been decreased from 1 minute to about 20 to 30 seconds. The melt composition has been improved to virtually eliminate Berrylium, increase the quantity of aluminum and make the most competitive batch of Liquidmetal alloy made for commercial sales. All three of these factors have greatly increased the yield, the cost-competitiveness and the quality consistency of Liquidmetal alloyed products.
An earlier post eminating from the shareholders meeting details the economics.
While normal details (See the Japan Steel Works agreement with Buhler) of sales and service, maintenance and parts are not even generally covered in this news release, they are, of course, essential components of such an agreement.Perhaps they will be spelled out more in detail by Bühler Druckguss AG, on their web-site:
which promotes the buyers of Buhler machines.
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
The question yet unanswered is: What part of the Apple Iphone is Liquidmetal making?
Whatever the answer, the number of these parts is in the millions, which is great for the revenue flow of Liquidmetal, as these parts are being made in Korea.
They already tout the "world's slimmest" LCD panel for mobile phones, now Samsung is announcing the "world's first" truly double-sided LCD. Samsung's new double-sided LCD can display two entirely different sets of information simultaneously on the front and back of the same screen whereas conventional double-sided LCDs can only show a reverse image of the same data. The magic results from Samsung's new double-gate, thin-film transistor (TFT)
architecture. The LCD has two gates -- not one -- which operate each pixel for separate control of the liquid crystal on the transmissive and reflective sides. The 2.22-inch display is 2.6-mm thick and features a QVGA (240x320) resolution, support for 265k colors, and a 250-nit brightness on the transmissive primary screen which drops down to a weak sauce, 100-nit on the secondary reflective screen. Still, thin is in and the new panel can shave a full millimeter off today's dual-panel devices. Hitting the streets in the form of consumable product sometime before July. Check the mystery, prototype handset after the break.
Monday, December 10, 2007
NEW YORK, Dec 08, 2007 (AP via COMTEX) --
Company: Jabil Circuit, Inc. (JBL)
Shares of Jabil Circuit Inc. rose Friday after a Baird analyst upgraded the electronics manufacturing service provider, citing stability in most of the company's end markets and expected margin improvement.
Analyst Reik Read, who also said the stock had an attractive valuation, upgraded Jabil to "Outperform" from "Neutral."
The analyst said that excluding the consumer and housing-related industrial sectors, Jabil's end markets are "relatively stable."
"Jabil customers in the networking and storage segments generally reported in-line third-quarter results, with international growth offsetting weakness in the U.S. enterprise markets," the analyst wrote.
Read added that while the company's automotive segment has been weak recently, he thinks the industry is "near a trough and should return to low single-digit growth in 2008."
In addition, the company's restructuring efforts, along with improved growth, "will lead to margin increases over the medium term," Read wrote.
Jabil, which is restructuring its business to move production from Western Europe to cheaper locations around the world, "is likely to incur only minimal duplication costs" during this transition, he added.
Shares of the St. Petersburg, Fla.-based company rose 50 cents, or 2.9 percent, to $17.74 in midday trading. The stock has traded in a 52-week range of $16.17 to $29.11.
Copyright 2007 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
Copyright (C) 2007 Xinhua Financial News. All rights reserved
News Provided by COMTEX
Company: Jabil Circuit, Inc. (JBL)
NEW YORK, Dec 06, 2007 (BUSINESS WIRE) --
Fitch believes 2008 credit and operating trends will remain stable for most U.S. information technology (IT) sectors, except for electronic manufacturing services (EMS), which has a negative outlook. Total industry debt is expected to increase in 2008 exceeding a 10-year high again, surpassing $190 billion. The technology industry overall is expected to continue to achieve growth in excess of U.S. gross domestic product for 2008, with many companies benefiting from strong international growth amplified by the weak U.S. dollar. Fitch has a cautious bias to this view (particularly for less geographically diverse companies) as U.S. growth could be constrained by the financial services vertical, which is the worldwide leader in terms of IT spending. Fitch estimates that any significant decline in IT spending by financial services companies could reduce the U.S. growth rates by more than 100 basis points, with the hardware sector being most affected.
2008 CREDIT OUTLOOK:
Technology companies' balance sheets are strong and industry financial flexibility remains healthy. Cash positions are near $250 billion, essentially flat since year-end 2004, and free cash flow has increased the last few years with expectations that it will be flat in 2008 with pressured profitability offsetting top-line growth. Credit concerns for the industry center on potential debt issuance, primarily for acquisitions and increased share buybacks due to difficulties accessing offshore cash in a tax-efficient manner, weakening credit protection measures mostly from higher industry debt levels, and, although declining, event risk of companies considering alternative capital structures (mostly new issuers). In 2008 Fitch believes the maturing technology industry will continue to experience strong acquisition activity from strategic buyers, particularly for the software and IT Services sectors, and potentially, though less likely, the EMS sector. Event risk around leveraged buyout activity has subsided for the intermediate term.
DEBT LEVELS INCREASING:
Total industry debt is expected to increase again in 2008, surpassing $190 billion and exceeding the 10-year high set in 2007. Fitch believes a majority of 2008 technology debt issuance will be driven by three main factors: 1) many technology companies have exhausted their U.S.-based excess cash balances for share repurchases or acquisitions and are examining issuing debt in the U.S. to support share repurchases and other activities, as overseas cash levels continue to increase, 2) debt-financed acquisitions, and 3) new issuers who have historically had zero debt and are continuously examining their capital structures. Debt refinancings will also drive debt issuance, as the industry has approximately $20 billion of debt maturities in 2008. Fitch believes excess cash and free cash flow will continue to be used aggressively for stock buybacks, which are on pace to increase more than 10% in 2007 to approximately $90 billion.
LIQUIDITY REMAINS STRONG:
Liquidity for the U.S. technology sector is generally very solid due to high cash balances and strong free cash flow, despite the lack of significant U.S.-based cash for some companies. Several companies accessed the capital markets during the favorable liquidity environment to extend revolver expirations and refinance maturing bonds. The few companies with weak operating liquidity are generally in that position due to exposure to the capital-intensive semiconductor industry or because of self-inflicted financial policy decisions that have resulted in a significant portion of cash flows being dedicated to interest expense (e.g., First Data Corp., Advanced Micro Devices Inc. and Spansion Inc.). However, Fitch believes these challenged companies do not have any material maturities coming due until after 2010, minimizing near-term liquidity issues.
Fitch believes the majority of rating actions for the U.S. technology sector in 2008 will occur in the IT Services and EMS sectors. The credit outlook for IT Services is generally stable, as Fitch's coverage currently includes companies with positive and negative Outlooks, all of which Fitch believes will be resolved in 2008. Increased share buybacks, potentially debt-financed acquisitions, and event risk of altered capital structures are all credit concerns for 2008. Fitch continues to focus primarily on the quality and sustainability of free cash flow and investment requirements for contract signings. EMS is the one and only sector where Fitch has a negative outlook for 2008 due to continued operational challenges and increasing competitive threats. These companies are the most likely to experience weakened operating and credit profiles, potentially leading to negative rating actions. Opportunities for meaningful debt reduction appear unlikely, although EMS companies have been able to generate free cash flow from working capital in a declining revenue environment.
2008 MARKET OUTLOOK:
The technology industry's revenue base is clearly correlated to general economic conditions, although some sectors have a stronger ability to withstand a downturn than others. For example, most IT services - with the exception of the consulting and systems integration business - and software companies receive a significant amount of relatively predictable recurring revenue and free cash flow from long-term contracts and/or maintenance streams, resulting in a stronger capability to withstand an economic downturn. Sectors such as EMS and IT distributors would clearly be affected by an economic downturn from a profitability standpoint, but this decline has historically been offset by working capital improvements.
Market indications and industry trends suggest the worldwide IT spending environment will remain stable in 2008 with mid- to low-single-digit growth expected. Growth will likely be led by the approximately $800 billion IT services and software sectors with hardware being most challenged to achieve growth due to pricing pressures as unit demand remains healthy. While worldwide growth is stable, Fitch believes declining macroeconomic trends in the U.S. (Fitch forecasts 1.7% expansion in 2008) could pressure the sector and participants that lack geographic revenue diversity. The combination of relatively high energy costs and a pressured housing market may potentially lower consumer discretionary spending on technology products. The small and medium business (SMB) market remains a source of growth and strong focus of the IT industry.
IT Services (Stable Outlook)-
The 2008 operating and credit outlooks for the IT services industry are stable, despite company-specific issues influencing the credit outlooks for a few companies. Fitch believes acquisition activity by strategic buyers in the IT services industry will accelerate in 2008 due to pent-up demand, potentially replacing share repurchases as the primary use of cash. As the vast majority of companies within Fitch's rating coverage have dramatically scaled their offshore delivery resources, Fitch believes future acquisitions will primarily be designed to diversify service line mix or add capabilities in targeted vertical markets.
The stable operating outlook is driven by expectations of total IT services market growth in the mid-single digits supported by a healthy pipeline of transactions particularly from the government sector. However, Fitch remains cautious about growth, due to increasing economic uncertainty in the U.S. which could dampen demand for consulting services. Also, commercial outsourcing signings will continue to be pressured by the increasing competitiveness and scope of services offered by India-based vendors, escalating commercial demand for lower-priced offshore services, and greater use of multi-sourcing. Although, the long-term nature of outsourcing and infrastructure services contracts result in a recurring revenue base and consistent cash-generation even in a lower growth environment.
Hardware (Stable Outlook)-
The 2008 credit and operating outlooks for the hardware sector are generally stable with a potentially negative bias for less diversified hardware manufacturers, with respect to product portfolio, industry concentration and/or geographic perspective, due to uncertainty associated with the economic environment, particularly in the U.S. Fitch expects hardware revenue growth in the low-single-digit range for 2008. Commercial hardware spending in the U.S. could also be constrained by the financial services vertical, which is the worldwide leader in terms of IT spending. The turmoil in the financial services sector poses downside risk to the server market in 2008, since it accounted for nearly 25% of worldwide server revenue in 2006, according to Gartner. The three server vendors with the greatest exposure to the financial services vertical includes IBM (45% share of financial services total server revenue in 2006), Hewlett-Packard (27%) and Sun Microsystems (9%). Acquisition activity is expected to continue as companies seek to diversify into higher-margin, recurring revenue offerings such as software and IT services.
Fitch believes worldwide personal computer (PC) unit demand will moderate slightly from 2007, but remain solid, growing at approximately 10% in 2008 versus expected growth of approximately 12% in 2007. Fitch expects PC demand in 2008 to be driven by the continued shift to notebooks from desktops and solid demand from consumers (especially internationally) and emerging markets. Fitch believes the PC market is increasingly reliant on emerging markets for growth, as U.S. demand, which accounts for approximately 27% of worldwide unit sales, will likely moderate in 2008. Worldwide server unit growth could slow in 2008 due to enterprises' implementation of virtualization and multi-core processors in the data center. Fitch expects total worldwide revenues from commercial disk storage systems to increase in the mid-single-digit range for 2008 and revenues from consumer-oriented storage products to grow in excess of the commercial growth rate due to expansion of consumers' digital rich media portfolios.
Semiconductors (Stable Outlook)-
Fitch's 2008 outlook for the semiconductor industry is stable, mostly driven by the aforementioned expectation of solid unit growth for PCs and mobile handsets. As the semiconductor industry continues to expand its total available market while pursuing a lower-capital-intensive profile, Fitch believes the industry will experience less volatility and relatively more predictable free cash flow. Similar to the overall technology industry, Fitch expects several semiconductor companies will continue to evaluate their mostly equity-dominated capital structures as potential opportunities to alter these balance sheet profiles, via debt-financed acquisition activity and/or potential stock buyback actions. From a business and operating profile standpoint, semiconductor companies continue to be subject to the highest technology risk within the technology industry.
Fitch believes the global semiconductor industry will grow in the low-single-digit range in 2008, following modest revenue growth for 2007. Embedded in Fitch's expectations are that unit demand will remain solid, semiconductor content within an ever widening range of applications will continue expanding, and increasing consumer spending in developing economies will partially offset slower spending anticipated in the U.S. and Western Europe. However, offsetting Fitch's expectations for solid unit demand are significant pricing pressures, excess manufacturing capacity for the memory segments, which aggressively added capacity in 2007 to meet strong NAND demand, and slightly elevated inventory levels (albeit still within manageable ranges), which will weigh on otherwise solid growth drivers.
For further analysis of Fitch's 2008 Global semiconductor outlook, see the Fitch press release titled 'Fitch: Consumer Electronics Key to Stable 2008 Semiconductor Outlook,' available on the Fitch web site at www.fitchratings.com.
IT Distributors (Stable Outlook)-
Fitch expects the credit profiles of the IT distributors to remain fairly stable in 2008 with the potential for modest debt issuance offset by continued growth in EBITDA and free cash flow. Lower growth expectations for semiconductors and IT equipment could test the distributors' ability to manage cyclical downturns particularly in regard to the semiconductor exposure at Arrow and Avnet. Fitch believes that since the last industry downturn in 2002, the distributors' increased diversification, geographically and by end-market, as well as improved inventory management systems, should reduce the variability in results going forward. With no meaningful industry maturities in 2008, Fitch expects debt issuance to be driven by further acquisition activity and potentially some shareholder-friendly actions, which Fitch expects would become increasingly likely if the stocks of the distributors are affected negatively by broader market concerns. Acquisitions will likely continue to be a priority, continuing a trend of consolidating market share and international expansion.
Fitch expects Anixter (rated 'BB+', with a Stable Outlook) to continue to demonstrate strong results although negative macroeconomic trends could limit organic growth rates in 2008. However, slower growth should drive higher free cash flow which would help mitigate any need for additional borrowings due to acquisitions or shareholder-friendly actions. Tech Data (rated 'BB+', with a Stable Outlook) has achieved improved operating results in recent quarters including strong free cash flow trends which, if continued into 2008, could lead to positive rating actions.
EMS (Negative Outlook)-
Fitch's negative credit outlook on the EMS industry largely reflects continued operational challenges in addition to continued event risk, arising from additional consolidation or acquisitions to bolster vertical integration capabilities. End-market demand trends remain positive, despite a pressured economy, as OEMs outsource additional manufacturing particularly in non-traditional industries such as defense, automobile components and medical instruments. However, Fitch expects profitability in the EMS market to remain challenged by continuing competitive pressures from both Asian ODMs (original design manufacturers) entering traditional EMS markets and EMS vendors forgoing typical margins to fill excess manufacturing capacity. Although 2008 could prove to be a turning point for the industry if Flextronics' acquisition of Solectron reduces a significant part of the overhang from excess manufacturing capacity leading to a more stable pricing environment. Debt issuance in 2007 was driven primarily by acquisition activity, which will likely continue to be the primary driver in 2008.
Flextronics' (rated 'BB+', with a Negative Outlook) ratings could be stabilized if it succeeds in integrating Solectron's operations, improves profitability and uses the expected resulting free cash flow to reduce the incremental $2 billion in debt which partially financed the acquisition.
Celestica (rated 'B+', with a Negative Outlook) and
Sanmina (rated 'B+', with a Negative Outlook)
are both expected to face continued operational challenges but could utilize positive free cash flow, particularly resulting from reduced working capital requirements, to reduce debt which could lead to a stabilization of the ratings.
Communications Equipment (Stable Outlook)-
Fitch believes credit profiles for the global communications equipment providers will be stable in 2008 with the expectation that wireless spending will essentially be flat to slightly up due to subscriber growth and technology upgrades, while wireline spending will be flat. Fitch's overall market view on the medium-term outlook for the communications equipment sector is cautiously stable with relatively flat to slight growth in expenditure expected in developed markets, while emerging territories such as Latin America, China and India will continue to see sizeable investment in infrastructure over the next 2-3 years. Near-term visibility has weakened however, with concerns over carrier consolidation in developed markets and geopolitical uncertainty in some emerging markets affecting the outlook for investment in 2008.
General trends across both the developed and emerging markets include convergence and multi-media, with these developments offering the prospect of continued investment in equipment spend. However, uncertainties remain, including the potential for more efficient use of existing spectrum, which could reduce the need for capacity- and/or expansion-related investment. While Fitch believes communications investment is driven primarily by strategic considerations, current economic uncertainties and credit conditions could slow investment in 2008. Fitch does not, however, draw parallels with the spending crisis of 2001, while investment postponements should lead to pent-up demand in 2009.
Financial Services: (Stable Outlook)-
Fitch's outlook on the payment processing industry is stable, balanced by continued modest organic growth with increased debt issuance, primarily related to merger and acquisition activity. Fitch expects modest revenue growth in the mid to high-single digits over the next several years, driven by general economic growth and a continued transition toward a higher mix of electronic payment transactions. Given the fragmented market share across much of the payment processing sector, Fitch expects continued acquisition activity. In addition, share repurchase programs financed primarily through the use of free cash flow remain a significant part of most companies' capital allocation strategy reflecting the high free cash flow nature of the financial model for most of the companies in this sector.
The Fitch full special report 'Segmenting Technology Risk: Strong Liquidity, Stable Operating Trends Mitigate U.S. Tech Concerns in 2008,' will be published in early January 2008.
A list of Fitch-rated issuers and their current Issuer Default Ratings (IDRs) in the U.S. technology sector follows:
--Affiliated Computer Services, Inc. ('BB'; Outlook Stable);
--CA Inc. ('BB+'; Outlook Negative);
--Computer Sciences Corp. ('A-'; Outlook Stable);
--Convergys Corp. ('BBB'; Outlook Stable);
--Electronic Data Systems Corp. ('BBB-'; Outlook Positive);
--International Business Machines Corp. ('A+'; Outlook Stable);
--Oracle Corp. ('A'; Outlook Stable);
--SunGard Data Systems Inc. ('B'; Outlook Stable);
--Unisys Corp. ('BB-'; Outlook Negative).
--Dell Inc. ('A'; Outlook Stable);
--Hewlett-Packard Company ('A+'; Outlook Stable);
--Eastman Kodak Company ('B'; Outlook Negative);
--Seagate Technology HDD Holdings ('BBB-'; Outlook Stable);
--Sun Microsystems, Inc. ('BBB-'; Outlook Stable);
--Xerox Corporation ('BBB-'; Outlook Stable).
--Advanced Micro Devices, Inc. ('B'; Outlook Negative);
--Freescale Semiconductor, Inc. ('B+'; Outlook Stable);
--International Rectifier Corp. ('BB'; Rating Watch Negative);
--Spansion Inc. ('B-'; Outlook Negative);
--Texas Instruments Incorporated ('A+'; Outlook Stable).
--Anixter Inc. ('BB+'; Outlook Stable);
--Anixter International Inc. ('BB+'; Outlook Stable);
--Arrow Electronics, Inc. ('BBB-'; Outlook Stable);
--Avnet, Inc. ('BBB-'; Outlook Stable);
--Ingram Micro Inc. ('BBB-'; Outlook Stable);
--TechData Corporation ('BB+'; Outlook Stable).
Electronics Manufacturing Services (EMS):
--Celestica Inc. ('B+'; Outlook Negative);
--Flextronics International Ltd. ('BB+'; Outlook Negative [Sage: except for mobile phones and consumer electronics]);
--Sanmina-SCI Corp. ('B+'; Outlook Negative).
--Agilent Technologies Inc. ('BBB-'; Outlook Stable)
--Corning Incorporated ('BBB+'; Outlook Stable);
--Motorola, Inc. ('BBB+'; Outlook Negative);
--Nokia Corporation ('A+'; Rating Watch Negative);
--Telefonaktiebolaget LM Ericsson ('BBB+'; Outlook Stable);
--Tyco Electronics Ltd. ('BBB'; Outlook Stable).
--Fidelity National Information Services ('BB'; Outlook Stable);
--Fidelity Sedgwick Holdings, Inc. ('B'; Outlook Stable);
--First Data Corp. ('B+'; Outlook Stable);
--H&R Block Inc. ('BBB+'; Rating Watch Negative)
--Moneygram International Inc. ('BBB-'; Rating Watch Negative);
--The Western Union Company ('A-'; Outlook Stable).
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
The question for shareholders is why the Company did not announce this at the shareholders meeting on November 15th and describe what process is ongoing to seek a successor. This is a material event in the loss of the lead key person in Liquidmetal Technologies R & D department.
Atakan Peker, Ph.D., joined the Applied Sciences Laboratory of Washington State University, Spokane, Washington in August as senior scientist and director of advanced materials. His research focus is the development of novel alloys and composites for practical applications. The scope of his material research includes the study of mechanical and dynamic properties, chemical/corrosion properties, and net-shape forming of advanced materials. His work at ASL will be focused on the development, processing, and characterization of novel alloys and composites for client-specific applications.
Peker has received his Ph.D. in Materials Science from the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. During his Ph.D. thesis, he worked on the development of bulk amorphous alloys and discovered Zr-Ti base Vitreloy series alloys, which are considered the most processable bulk amorphous alloys to date and are currently commercially produced for casings of consumer electronics. Bulk amorphous alloys, also known as bulk metallic glasses, are a new class of engineering alloys that have a broad scope of applications from industrial coatings to fine jewelry.
Prior to joining ASL, Peker served as the vice president of technology at Liquidmetal Technologies. He has 14 years of research and materials processing experience with over 30 patents issued or pending.
Source: Washington State University, Spokane, WA Applied Sciences Lab
Friday, November 23, 2007
Within 35 business days of this date, all grandfathered naked short positions must be closed...
This essentially means that a whole bunch of short interest......at least 670,000 shares ....must be closed out prior to November 30 - December 3 (depending upon one questionable holiday).
So HOLD ON LONGS and LET THE SHORTS take it in the ear. Next week is going to see a flurry of activity as dealers who are short try to find shares to return....and GOOD LUCK. For 600,000 shares to cover in a week, we should be seeing a price per share greatly in excess of $1.20.
Short interest (reported) has increased by 671,800 shares.
The other interesting aspect of the regulation changes, If a security becomes a Threshold Security after October 15th, all fails to deliver must be closed out within 13 consecutive settlement days.
Nasdaq Reg Sho Regulatory Alert
Elimination of "Short Exempt" Trade Dates
Again, Longs........HOLD YOUR SHARES and don't sell out below $1.50
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
There is no immediacy of change in our pending contract status, please note. This is written here only to keep the Liquidmetal investor aware of happenings with our partners, either with us, or with other activities, whichever may be the case]
Alliant Techsystems (ATK) announced that it has been awarded an initial three-year $15 million services contract by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California. Under the terms of the agreement, ATK will provide mechanical and thermal engineering support services to JPL for an initial three years, with two one-year options.
Through its acquisition of Swales Aerospace, ATK has supported JPL since 1997. The company has provided mechanical and thermal engineering services support to NASA JPL on programs such as the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL), the Moon Mineralogy Mapper, the Urey Instrument, the Orion Program, and the Planck, Juno, and Aquarius missions. The ATK-led team also includes subcontractors ATA Engineering, Jackson & Tull, SGT Inc., and West Wind Engineering.
"We look forward to building on our long term relationship with NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory team and are excited about our continued partnership with them on this important services contract," stated Mike Cerneck, Vice President and General Manager of the Space Division. "This is an important win for ATK and we are very proud of our team's accomplishment."
ATK is an advanced weapon and space systems company with annual revenues in excess of $4.1 billion that employs more than 16,500 people in 21 states.
KEP Program: The original contracts with the Army were announced in the following news release:
Liquidmetal Technologies Awarded New $3.0 Million Contract to Develop Armor-Piercing Ammunition for Ground Attack Jets
Aug. 11, 2003
TAMPA, Fla.--Liquidmetal(R) Technologies (NASDAQ:LQMT)
Funding Provided Under $5.25 Million 2003 Defense Appropriations Allocation
Liquidmetal(R) Technologies (NASDAQ:LQMT) today announced that it has signed a new, $3.0 million research and development contract with the U.S. Army for continuing development of high-performance Liquidmetal(R) alloy composite Kinetic Energy Penetrator (KEP) rods for use in armor-piercing ammunition systems.
The 16-month contract will be directed to development of PGU-14B KEPs for the Air Force's tank-killing A-10 "Warthog" ground attack jet. Because the Liquidmetal-KEP technology would also be beneficial to the Air Force and Navy, the Army is managing the development efforts as a joint service program. The new contract follows a successful first-year, $2 million program dedicated to initial ballistic testing and the design of equipment and processes required to produce batch sizes of Liquidmetal alloy composite KEPS.
Liquidmetal Technologies has selected Alliant Techsystems (ATK) as a subcontractor to conduct full-scale systems integration and ballistic testing. ATK is the current prime contractor for the production of PGU-14Bs. The overall goal of the program is to develop higher-performance, environmentally safe KEPs as an alternative to depleted uranium rods currently used by the military.
Liquidmetal alloys possess a unique amorphous atomic structure that combines strength 2-3 times greater than titanium with the ability to be molded into precision parts, similar to plastics. Liquidmetal Technologies is the first company to produce amorphous alloys in commercially viable bulk form, and the alloys are considered a breakthrough in material science.
The Army contract is the second of two contracts awarded to Liquidmetal Technologies in recent weeks under a previously announced, $5.25 million 2003 Defense Appropriations allocation approved last fall for the continuing study of Liquidmetal alloys. On July 1, 2003 the Air Force awarded Liquidmetal Technologies an $811,000 corrosion study contract to document the anti-corrosive properties of various Liquidmetal alloy compositions in environments of military interest.
In addition, Liquidmetal Technologies is currently finalizing a Small Business Innovative Research contract with the U.S. Navy to design lightweight fragmentation bombs using Liquidmetal alloys as the primary casing. With this contract in place, Liquidmetal Technologies will be engaged in development programs will all branches of the military as well as the Department of Defense, under the auspices of the Defense Advance Research Projects Agency (DARPA). Product development programs are also underway with several leading defense contractors, including Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Raytheon.
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
The case for bulk metallic glass
Available online 23 February 2004.
The last ten years have seen the discovery of amorphous metal alloys that are glass forming at cooling rates as slow as 1°C s−1 to 100°C s−1 in the bulk via conventional metal processing such as casting, but with the ease of molding of polymers. They are twice as strong as steel, have greater wear and corrosion resistance, are tougher than ceramics, and yet have greater elasticity. Increased plasticity in amorphous/crystalline composites now promises new structural applications.
- • Conventional metallic glass
- • Bulk metallic glass scales up
- • Commercial Zr-based BMG
- • Composites for enhanced plasticity
- • Investigating structural applications
- • A variety of uses
- • Golf club heads
- • Making the case for consumer electronics
- • Liquidmetal rebounds
- • Medical applications
- • Defense and aerospace
- • Cheaper, easier manufacturing
- • References
When a conventional metal or alloy cools from the liquid melt, equilibrium is reached when it solidifies into the lowest energy state structure, i.e. a crystalline lattice. Practical metals take advantage of the highly unstable metallic liquid and crystallize just under the melting point in microseconds. But rather than forming a perfect single crystal, most metals are polycrystalline, with grains of varying shapes and sizes. Grain boundaries represent weak spots of less than optimal atomic packing, where fractures can form and corrosion starts. Misaligned planes of atoms, under sufficient stress and heat, slip past each other easily, allowing dislocations to move. As a result, metals have a much lower strength than their theoretical maximum and, since energy goes into moving atoms out of the way, deformation is plastic and permanent.
In contrast, a glass has such slow crystal nucleation and growth kinetics that the liquid can be undercooled far below its melting point before a glass transition is reached, ‘freezing’ as a vitreous solid without crystallizing. The atoms retain an amorphous distribution (i.e. random packing with no long-range order). However, glass is brittle.
Conventional metallic glass
At California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in 1960, Pol Duwez et al. discovered that if a molten metal (specifically, the binary metallic alloy Au80Si20) is undercooled uniformly and rapidly enough, e.g. at 1 × 106°C s−1, the heterogeneous atoms do not have enough time or energy to rearrange for crystal nucleation. The liquid reaches the glass transition temperature, Tg, and solidifies as a metallic glass. It is less brittle than oxide glass and looks like a metal – opaque, gray, shiny, and smooth (Fig. 1).
Fig. 1. A sample of Liquidmetal Technologies' Zr-based metallic glass.
In the tightly packed glassy structure, the displacement of atoms (e.g. to accommodate a dislocation) is obstructed. A metallic glass, therefore, absorbs less energy upon stress-induced deformation through damping and returns more by rebounding elastically to its initial shape. With no crystal defects, mechanical properties combine to produce a material with the following properties:
- • Strength (twice that of stainless steel, but lighter);
- • Hardness (for surface coatings);
- • Toughness (more fracture resistant than ceramics); and
- • Elasticity (high yield strength).
The absence of grain boundaries means that the material is resistant to corrosion and wear, as well as possessing soft-magnetic properties, specifically in the alloys of glass formers (B, Si, P) and ferrous magnetic transition metals (Fe, Co, Ni). High electrical resistivity leads to low eddy current losses. Easy magnetization and demagnetization allows lower losses in applications, operation at high temperatures with minimal flux density reduction, and annealing.
Critical casting thickness
Heat conduction is slow in these materials, however, so that the requisite cooling rate can only be achieved for a very small critical casting thickness. This precludes bulk molding and, therefore, structural applications.
High velocity oxygen fuel (HVOF) thermal spraying applies low-friction, high-hardness surface coatings to make materials such as Fe, Al, and Ti corrosion-, wear-, and heat-resistant in harsh applications such as marine equipment, drilling machinery, and pipes. Coatings get harder, slicker, and more wear-resistant with use. Surface hardness is 10-20% greater than electroplated chrome. Thermal expansion is similar to steel, giving high resistance to thermal and load cycling.
In the 1970s, AlliedSignal developed another means of forming metallic glass. Molten Fe–Ni–P–B is poured onto a spinning casting wheel to produce a continuous ribbon tens of microns thick. This process was commercialized as Metglas in the early 1980s for magnetic applications such as low-loss power distribution transformer cores. Alternatively, droplets are quick-frozen onto a cold surface by splat cooling. However, to enable bulk molding, the focus has been on slowing cooling rates to increase the critical casting thickness.
The key empirical criteria for slow crystallization kinetics and, therefore, a stabilized supercooled liquid state and high glass-forming ability, include:
- • Multi-component alloys of three or more elements: increased complexity and size of the crystal unit cell reduces the energetic advantage of forming an ordered structure of longer-range periodicity than the atomic interactions;
- • Atomic radius mismatch between elements, Δr/r, greater than 12% leads to a higher packing density and smaller free volume in the liquid state compared with metallic melts, and requires a greater volume increase for crystallization;
- • Negative heat of mixing between the main elements increases the energy barrier at the liquid-solid interface and decreases atomic diffusivity (increasing the equilibrium melt viscosity to three orders of magnitude greater than binary alloys); this retards local atomic rearrangements and the crystal nucleation rate, extending the supercooled liquid temperature range;
- • Using an alloy composition close to a deep eutectic forms a liquid stable at low temperatures.
Bulk metallic glass scales up
In 1969, Chen and Turnbull formed amorphous spheres of ternary Pd-M-Si (with M = Ag, Cu, or Au) at critical cooling rates of 100°C s−1 to 1000°C s−1, specifically Pd77.5Cu6Si16.5 with a diameter of 0.5 mm. In some Pd-Cu-Si and Pd-Ag-Si alloys, the supercooled liquid range (between the crystallization and glass transition temperatures) was extended to 40 K, enabling the first detailed studies of crystallization in metallic glasses. In 1974, Chen obtained a critical casting thickness of 1 mm in Pd-T-P (T= Ni, Co, Fe) and a slightly greater thickness with Au55Pb22.5Sb22.5 in 1982. In the early 1980s, Turnbull's group produced glassy ingots of Pd40Ni40P20 with a diameter of 5 mm using surface etching followed by heating and cooling cycles. By processing in a boron oxide flux, they increased critical casting thickness to 1 cm – the first bulk metallic glass (BMG). An overview of critical casting thickness and the date of discovery is shown in Fig. 2. Progress has been significant and is outlined below.
Fig. 2. The critical casting thickness versus the year in which alloys were discovered. Over 40 years, the critical casting thickness has increased by more than three orders of magnitude.
Since the 1980s, Akihisa Inoue, of Tohoku University's Institute for Materials Research, and William L. Johnson of Caltech have discovered strongly glass forming multi-component La-, Mg-, Zr-, Pd-, Fe-, Cu-, and Ti-based alloys with large undercooling and low critical cooling rates of 1°C s−1 to 100°C s−1, similar to oxide glasses. These properties allow an increase in time (from milliseconds to minutes) before crystallization, enabling a greater critical casting thickness (>1 cm) by conventional molding.
In 1988, Inoue discovered that La-Al-TM (TM = Ni, Cu) is highly glass-forming while investigating the mixing of rare-earth materials such as lanthanides with Al and ferrous metals. Using Cu molds, they cast glassy La55Al25Ni20 up to 5 mm thick and, in 1991, glassy La55Al25Ni10Cu10 up to 9 mm thick. Mg-TM-Y was also shown in 1991 to have high glass-forming ability in the form of Mg65Cu25Y10. An extended supercooled liquid region (to 127 K)  was achieved for Zr-Al-Ni-Cu, with a critical casting thickness of 15 mm  for Zr65Al7.5Ni10Cu17.5. Caltech's Johnson and Peker developed a pentary alloy based on Zr-Ti-Cu-Ni-Be in 1992, Zr41.2Ti13.8Cu12.5Ni10.0Be22.5, as part of a US Department of Energy and NASA funded project to develop new aerospace materials. With critical casting thickness of up to 10 cm possible in silica containers, the alloy became known as Vitreloy 1 (Vit1), the first commercial BMG. Variants include Vit2 (Zr46.75Ti8.25Cu7.5Ni10Be27.5). More recently, Kündig at ETH Zürich has been investigating Zr–Ti–Cu–Ni–Al alloys, focusing on those similar to Vit105 (Zr52.5Ti5Cu17.9Ni14.6Al10) – one of the best glass-forming alloys.
Under the auspices of a three-year European RTN Network on bulk metallic glasses, which concluded in April 2003, groups at the Institut National Polytechnique de Grenoble, the Leibniz Institute for Solid State and Materials Research Dresden, European Synchrotron Radiation Facility, the Institute of Metallurgy and Materials Science in Krakow, Universidad Complutense Madrid, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, and the Universities of Cambridge, Sheffield, Ulm, and Turin collaborated on the development of Zr-, Mg-, Fe-, Al-, Pd-, Hf-, and Nd-based alloys. Research aimed at increasing the concentrations of light elements such as Ti, Al, and Mg in environmentally safe, Be-free Zr-based alloys.
Commercial Zr-based BMG
Vitreloy contains a large number of different sized atoms, which leads to a free volume of only 1% at the melting point and, therefore, high viscosity. In the solid, the difficulty with which atoms move past each other yields high corrosion and wear resistance.
Compared to crystalline steel and Ti alloys (Table 1 and Fig. 3), Zr-based glasses have similar densities but high Young's modulus (96 GPa) and elastic strain-to-failure limit (el = 2%). The glasses have high tensile yield strength (σy = 1.9 GPa), i.e. a high strength-to-weight ratio, making them a possible replacement for Al, but with a much greater resistance to permanent, plastic deformation (i.e. fracture toughness K1c). Less absorption and greater rerelease of energy, i.e. low damping, means that even after high load and stress deformation the material springs back elastically to its original shape. This shape memory ability enables the use of the material in applications such as sporting equipment.
Fig. 3. Amorphous metallic alloys combine higher strength than crystalline metal alloys with the elasticity of polymers.
Processing: near net-shape fabrication
Above Tg in the supercooled liquid regime, Zr-based metallic glass remains stable against crystallization and softens into a liquid orders of magnitude more viscous than molten metal. This behavior, which makes it malleable at 400°C compared with over 1000°C for steel, is more like a thermosetting polymer than a metal. This allows shaping and forming by thermoplastic processing as easily and cheaply as polymers and, hence, high-volume production with a critical casting thickness of up to 10 cm.
Unlike die-cast metals, low shrinkage during solidification allows molding of intricate, near net-shaped parts with microscale precision. The surface finish is smoother, shinier, and more consistent, eliminating most costly secondary finishing processes and allowing reuse of the mold.
Deformation, flow, and shear bands
Casting in bulk has enabled the assessment of fracture and fatigue properties. Compared to polycrystalline metals with similar properties, amorphous metals are weakened at high temperatures and suffer cyclic fatigue from repeated stress. Since BMGs have high elasticity and low plasticity, they exhibit little plastic deformation prior to catastrophic failure, which limits industrial and structural applications where reliability is critical (e.g. automotive and aerospace).
Particularly at high strain rates in tensile loading, amorphous metals are susceptible to plastic deformation associated with highly localized, inhomogeneous flow, which forms intense shear bands at stress points. Because of the lack of grain structure, as well as the tendency towards strain-induced work-softening rather than work-hardening, low overall plasticity leads to low resistance to shear band propagation. This susceptibility to cyclic fatigue leads to crack growth, fracture, and, ultimately, catastrophic failure. To obtain more tolerance to damage and enable structural use, mechanical properties need to be enhanced by controlling shear band formation and propagation.
Composites for enhanced plasticity
Obstructing shear band propagation can distribute plastic deformation and alleviate the inherent limitations of amorphous metallic glass. Increasing fracture toughness can be achieved by forming a composite alloy with a two-phase microstructure: an amorphous-phase BMG acts as a matrix for a ductile crystalline-phase reinforcement material. The reinforcement can be either extrinsic (metal or ceramic fibers or particles) or intrinsic (in situ precipitation of β-phase Ti dendrites from the melt during cooling, yielding partial crystallinity). The second-phase reinforcement acts as a ‘crack-stopper’ by adding impediments to shear band propagation. The two-phase composite combines the high strength of an unreinforced, single-phase monolithic BMG with the advantages of crystallinity: increased ductility, fracture toughness, and plastic strain-to-failure .
Johnson has investigated a composite of Vit1 reinforced with carbon fiber and Zr57Nb5Al10Cu15.4Ni12.6 reinforced with a ductile metal wire/particulate such as W. In 2000, Inoue produced nanocomposites with improved plasticity up to 2.5% by annealing glassy precursor alloys. In contrast, Johnson enhanced plasticity of BMGs without additional annealing steps by including in situ ductile phase dendrite dispersions. They found that, upon cooling, Zr56.2Ti13.8Nb5Cu7Ni5.5Be12.5 precipitates a high-temperature, micron-sized ductile β-ZrTi (body-centered cubic) phase, which shifts the remainder of the composition closer to Vit1. Adding Nb stabilizes the bcc over the α-ZrTi (hexagonal close packed) phase. The overall (tensile and compressive) plastic strain is about 5%.
As part of the European RTN network, Kühn found that Zr66.4Nb6.4Cu10.5Ni8.7Al8 forms dendritic bcc phase precipitates in situ during Cu mold casting. Upon annealing, the first exothermic transformation of the material is related to precipitation of an icosahedral phase from the glassy matrix.
In addition to Zr-based composites, others have been investigated. For example, He et al. modified a glassy Ti50Cu23Ni20Sn7 alloy by replacing 40% with Ti3Ta or Ti3Nb, where Ti and Ta (Nb) are completely miscible with each other, to obtain an in situ Ti-based composite consisting of ductile β-Ti(Ta, Sn) dendritic precipitates in a nanostructured matrix. The material exhibits up to 14.5% compressive plastic strain, which makes structural application more likely.
Investigating structural applications
Composite or bulk metallic glasses that are lightweight and inexpensive (e.g. Al-based alloys to replace Ti) are being developed for structural applications by multi-institution US Department of Defense (DoD) programs, including:
- • A team at the Center for Science and Engineering of Materials led by Caltech's Johnson, is investigating the processing, microstructure, and mechanical behavior of Zr56.3Ti13.8Cu6.9Ni5.6Nb5.0Be12.5 and other two-phase alloys. Johnson has pioneered the in situ transmission electron microscopy (TEM) of shear band deformation. By modeling the observed patterns (using finite element analysis of hard particles embedded in a matrix), he has established the temperature dependence of the transition from homogeneous flow at low strain rates near or above Tg to inhomogeneous, shear band mediated plastic deformation at lower temperatures and high strain rates.
- • The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is sponsoring a three-year, $10 million program, Structural Amorphous Metals, to develop low-cost, environmentally benign manufacturing of corrosion-resistant, reduced-magnetic-mass hull materials; moderate temperature, lightweight Fe, Al, Ti, Mg, and refractory metal alloys for aircraft and rocket propulsion; and wear-resistant machinery components for vehicles with increased life-span, durability, performance, and reduced maintenance.
Subprograms focused on lightweight structural materials include:
- • The Caltech Center for Structural Amorphous Metals, established in 2001, is developing refractory and lightweight Mg- and Al-based alloy glasses and composites. Case-Western Reserve, Northwestern, Oregon State, Stanford, Michigan, and Wisconsin Universities, along with Georgia Institute of Technology, are involved.
- • Structural amorphous Al for aerospace applications (to replace Ti) is being investigated by the Universities of Virginia (materials discovery) and Connecticut (process development), Pratt & Whitney (materials characterization and design), and Boeing (applications). First-generation alloys based on refractory metals, lightweight amorphous alloys, and composite materials with an amorphous alloy matrix have a tensile strength 25% greater than commercial Al alloys.
- • Work on advanced Al structural materials via metallic glass processing aims to produce components with isotropic properties and high structural efficiency for the US Air Force.
Other subprograms aim to exploit deformation and fracture at high strain in high-density composites:
- • Atakan Peker of Liquidmetal Technologies is focusing on refractory amorphous metals and composites such as in situ W-reinforced composites for environmentally benign armor-piercing kinetic energy penetrators (KEPs). Properties include (i) localized adiabatic shear bands at high strain rates to improve perforation and (ii) high strength to survive launch.
- • A project led by Texas A&M University is also developing high-density amorphous metal matrix composites for KEPs. Their approach is based on the consolidation of Zr-based amorphous metal and crystalline phase powder (or ZrC, Ta, and W) by warm equal channel angular extrusion (ECAE) into a continuous matrix phase that is close to theoretical density and has high-strain-rate failure characteristics.
A variety of uses
Liquidmetal Technologies, which was cofounded in 1987 as Amorphous Technologies International with Caltech's Johnson as vice chairman and Peker as vice president, was the first company to produce amorphous metal alloys in viable bulk form. With an exclusive worldwide license for Vitreloy (also known as ‘Liquidmetal’), principal areas for products are sports and luxury goods, electronics, medical, and defense.
Golf club heads
The first application to be found was as golf club heads. Twice as hard and four times as elastic as Ti drivers, 99% of the impact energy from a BMG head is transferred to the ball (compared to 70% for Ti). Higher strength-to-weight ratio allows mass to be distributed differently, enabling various shapes and sizes of head. In 1997, a subsidiary was established to make clubs, Liquidmetal Golf, with heads fabricated by Howmet Metal Mold using an adapted vacuum die casting process. High production costs (e.g. to drill holes, laser in scorelines, bend the clubs, and get paint to stick), however, led to Liquidmetal Technologies terminating manufacture in favor of licensing the technology to established club makers.
Making the case for consumer electronics
Vitreloy can also yield stronger, lighter, and more easily molded casings for personal electronic products. In September 2002, at a new $45 million factory in Pyongtaek, South Korea, Liquidmetal began making components for liquid crystal display casings on cell phones. But, again, costs became a problem. “Manufacturing process limitations, higher-than-expected production costs, unpredictable customer adoption cycles, short product shelf-life, and intense pricing pressures have made it difficult to compete profitably in this commodity-driven market,” explains chairman and CEO John Kang. “Processes are not yet refined to the point that we can cost-effectively manufacture price-sensitive, commodity products. Our core competency is alloy development.” The company is now focusing on manufacturing select, higher-margin cell phones (mainly for Samsung) and value-added sports and medical products, as well as development and prototyping. Rather than manufacture itself, Liquidmetal Technologies is pursuing funded strategic partnerships, technology licensing, joint development, and product distribution relationships for more rapid and effective commercialization of new products.
Liquidmetal Technologies' casings have now been chosen by OQO, Inc. for its hand-held ultra-personal computer screens. An agreement with Sony to develop a casing for digital still cameras has also been established. Liquidmetal Technologies' is also working with design firm Ideo to create a Vitreloy-encased laptop that rolls up like a piece of paper.
Liquidmetal Technologies is targeting leisure equipment that requires good rebound. Last May, it teamed with Rawlings Sporting Goods Company, Inc. to produce baseball and softball bats featuring its technology (Fig. 4). In July last year, HEAD launched a range of $200-250 tennis rackets that use Vitreloy in four areas of the frame. The increased stiffness enhances energy return with 29% more power, it is claimed. Now used by Andre Agassi, the ‘Radical’ model was named one of the best new products of 2003 by Fortune and BusinessWeek magazines Fig. 5). Liquidmetal Technologies is now working with HEAD on skis and snowboards. Other potential applications in sporting goods include fishing equipment, hunting bows, guns, scuba gear, marine applications, and bicycle frames.
Fig. 4. Baseball bat featuring Liquidmetal Technologies' ‘Pure Energy Transfer’ technology based on Vitreloy.
Fig. 5. A HEAD Radical tennis racket, which incorporates Liquidmetal Technologies' Vitreloy technology in the frame, in the hands of Andre Agassi.
Vitreloy can also be used for watch cases to replace Ni and other metals, which can cause allergic reactions, and jewelry. Two years ago, Liquidmetal Technologies teamed up with the watch and jewelry division of LVMH, whose luxury watchmaker TAG Heuer launched a special edition Microtimer Concept Watch last April featuring Vitreloy as the scratch- and dent-resistant, high-gloss, casing.
As well as industrial powders and smooth, hard coatings, Vitreloy has a highly biocompatible, nonallergenic form, which is ideal for corrosion- and wear-resistant medical applications. For example, DePuy Orthopaedics, Inc. is using the material in knee-replacement devices. Other applications include pacemaker casings.
In 2002, Surgical Specialties began producing ophthalmic scalpel blades using Vitreloy. They are higher quality but less expensive than diamond, sharper and longer lasting than steel, and more consistently manufacturable, since they are produced from a single mold (with microscale casting accuracy) ready for use. Other edged tool applications include knives and razor blades.
Catching solar wind
As part of NASA's Discovery Program, August 2001 saw the launch of the $200 million Genesis spacecraft (Fig. 6a) with the aim of collecting samples of solar wind . Orbiting the Lagrange point, Genesis is expected to capture 10-20 μg of solar wind particles and ions using five, 1 m diameter circular passive collector arrays. Each array consists of 55, 10 cm hexagonal tiles and one is coated with Zr-Nb-Cu-Ni-Al (formulated by Charles C. Hays at Caltech and prepared with Howmet's George Wolter), which absorbs and retains noble gases He and Ne ( Fig. 6b).
Once the collectors are back on Earth, acid etching techniques developed at the University of Zurich will be used to dissolve the surfaces evenly, allowing captured ions to be released layer by layer. Higher-energy ions blast further into the surface. “This allows us to test proposals that [higher-energy ions] differ in composition from the solar wind,” says Don Burnett, Caltech principal investigator and team leader.
Fig. 6. (a) Artist's impression of the Genesis spacecraft in collection mode, opened up to collect and store samples of solar wind particles. The cover of the canister contains one collector array and the body of a stack of four arrays that can be rotated out when the spacecraft begins its orbit. (b) Genesis' array, held by Andy Stone of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, showing the collector materials. [(a) courtesy of JPL; (b) courtesy of NASA Johnson Space Center.]
Defense and aerospace
Liquidmetal Technologies has received a series of contracts from the DoD to develop military materials that are stronger, lighter, and more effective at high temperature and stress. This includes various contracts over the past five years related to environmentally benign, in situ W-reinforced BMG-composite KEPs. These can replace depleted uranium penetrators in antitank armor-piercing projectiles because of their similar density and self-sharpening behavior. Unlike most crystalline metal projectiles, which flatten on impact, the sides of BMG-composite KEPs sheer away under dynamic loading, explains Todd C. Hufnagel of The Johns Hopkins University. In addition, Liquidmetal Technologies now has a $3 million, 16-month contract to develop KEPs for the US Air Force's tank-killing A-10 ‘Warthog’ ground-attack aircraft.
The company is also finalizing a Small Business Innovative Research contract with the US Navy on casings for lightweight fragmentation bombs. Meanwhile, Liquidmetal Technologies is working with Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control on a one-year program to develop lighter and stronger ceramic-BMG composite armor tiles.
Cheaper, easier manufacturing
There are good prospects for BMG materials whose properties favor easier, cheaper processing for more common-place applications. For example, a five-year project funded by the Japanese government between 1997-2002 (Inoue Supercooled Liquid Glass Project) reported the first bulk glassy alloy with tensile strength over 2 GPa (higher than that for Mg-, Pd-, and Zr-based alloys) with distinct plastic elongation in a less expensive Cu-based alloy system. This high-strength alloy can be formed by Cu mold casting. Anomalies in the Cu-Zr-Ti alloy include:
- • High glass-forming ability despite a small supercooled liquid region before crystallization, enabling easier casting compared with alloys with less glass-forming ability;
- • A combination of high strength and ductility, even in a mixed structure of glassy and nanoscale crystalline or quasicrystalline precipitates in the as-cast state, without subsequent annealing steps.
Inoue is now leading a five-year project on metallic glasses funded by the Japanese New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization, which will be completed in April 2007.
This promising work, together with developments in the US and Europe, greatly improves the prospects for the discovery of new BMGs with properties that will enable practical manufacturing. In turn, this is likely to open up a new sphere of potential applications.
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Volume 7, Issue 3, March 2004, Pages 36-43