Lightweighting is becoming increasingly important in the transportation industry. With electrification becoming more widespread in the automobile and motorcycle industries, the issue of weight is at the forefront of every manufacturer’s mind as they aim to increase efficiency and extend the range of their vehicles. Which is why the ‘microlattice’ material being developed by Boeing is so interesting.
Microlattice is the lightest metallic structure ever created, and ideally suited for application future airplanes, automobiles and other vehicles. It can be compressed up to 50 percent and bounce back perfectly into shape. At 99.99 percent air, it’s light enough to balance on top of a dandelion, yet its structure makes it incredibly strong.
The lattice structure is generated by beaming UV light into light sensitive resin, which then hardens. The structure is then coated with a thin metal film and the resin dissolved. These interconnecting hollow tubes — whose outer walls measure just one-1,000th the width of a human hair — form the “3D open-cellular polymer structure” that is 100 times lighter than styrofoam peanuts.
Originally developed by California-based HRL Laboratories in partnership with Caltech and UC Irvine, microlattice featured on Popular Mechanics’ list of the top 10 world-changing innovations in 2012. Clearly seeing the benefits, Boeing has been working in partnership with HRL to develop the material further.