Most people recognize the bubble wrap that comes in a roll of plastic and is often used for packing up delicate items. Bubble wrap is also frequently used to provide some extra padding when mailing out packages. The cushion of bubble wrap provides some additional protection.
However, while bubble wrap is effective for some items, other types of items, such as electronics, could perhaps benefit from some extra safeguarding.
Enter a new innovation—metallic bubble wrap.
Invented by engineers at North Carolina State University, the recently developed metallic bubble wrap is described as being "lighter, stronger and more flexible than sheet metal and more heat- and chemical-resistant than plastic or other polymer-based bubble wraps," according to a North Carolina State University press release.
The metallic bubble wrap is described as being very strong and extremely thin, only a few millimeters thick. The developers also say it's highly flexible.
"This material does exactly what sheet metal and other bubble wraps do, but better," said Dr. Afsaneh Rabiei, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering. "And it won’t cost businesses and consumers very much because producing it requires just a few steps."
Dr. Rabiei is the lead researcher on the project.
So, how is it made? Dr. Rabiei says the process is pretty straight forward.
• Start with a thin sheet of metal
• Take a studded roller and dot the metal with small indentations
• Insert a foaming agent into the grooves
• Run a heavy roller, binding two sheets together
The foaming agent breaks down during the heating process and creates the air bubbles to give the wrap it new shape. It was likened to "baking soda causing batter to rise when baking a cake," according to the press release.
Rabiei said while her team used aluminum on the bubble wrap, it was designed where it could theoretically be used on any type of sheet metal. One thing, as noted by Live Science, is that the metallic bubble wrap is not intended to replace traditional bubble wrap made of plastic, but to be used when a stronger material is warranted for packaging.
“We plan to further develop our metallic bubble wrap and hope it eventually offers better protection for products and the public," she said.
Potential uses can be used in helmets, air travel, cars to increase safety and many other uses.
"…if you are packing yourself in a car, and want to protect against car injury, this could be used inside doors, the hood, really any part of the car," Rabiei told Live Science.
The research was presented on June 24, 2013 at the 8th International Conference on Porous Metals and Metallic Foams in Raleigh, N.C.