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Metal 'souffle' cuts weight

STRUCTURAL insulated panel systems have long been used on construction sites but efforts to lighten metal-clad systems have proven difficult.

The use of foamed metals - souffles of metal with air bubbles trapped inside - to produce panels of lightweight construction has been seen as the way forward but manufacturers, like chefs, often have difficulty keeping the air inside the souffle mix.

Now German scientists at the Fraunhofer Institute in Bremen have developed a system that solves this problem.

During the manufacture of the metal souffles a raising agent is added to the powdered metal.When heated this agent evaporates and forms gases within the molten metal.

If the temperature is kept too high these gas bubbles join up and escape, leading to a collapsed souffle.

But the new method developed by Karsten Stobener and his team at the institute enables panel manufacturers to produce foamed metal panels without worrying about their culinary skills.

They can produce preformed globules of air-entrained metals that panel manufacturers simply use to fill hollow panel blanks.

These are then gently heated so that the globules are bound to each other and the sides of the panel system.

Mr Stobener said: 'Our advanced pore morphology technology offers manufacturers foams that are flexible and easy to handle.'