Last spring Swedish Lamera won the aircraft industry's Crystal Cabin Awards with their lightweight steel Hybrix. It is a sandwich material that consists of microscopic steel fibres between two sheets of stainless steel.
It is thin (1-2 mm), strong and it can be processed and formed in the same ways and with the same tools as ordinary stainless steel. In fact, the only apparent difference is that it weighs about half as much.
Hybrix has been described as "magic" since it seems too thin and firm to be hollow but this story gets even better: Lamera has combined their invention with Decorex - a material developed by another Swedish steel company, Sandvik. Decorex is a steel surface processed on nano level that can be given different colours and structures. The combined material (Hybrix steel with Decorex surface) has been given the blend name Decobrix and has some really interesting properties. It is harder and lighter that aluminium despite the fact that the production is less energy-consuming; it doesn’t stain and it is insensitive to finger marks; it is aesthetic and the colour is not affected or crackled when the material is processed since it is not actually paint but an optical illusion created by the structure of the surface. No wonder this new material is also nominated for the Crystal Cabin Awards.
One obvious area of use is aircraft interiors since there is A LOT of money to save with fewer kilos in the air. (And the price of fuel is not on its way down.) But apart from that there are many potential applications. With a larger scale production the costs may be reduced and make Hybrix cheaper than ordinary stainless steel since it consists mostly of air. In that case it will be rational to use it…well, anywhere.
Hybrix itself was developed at the well-known bionic intersection of biology and engineering; the fibre structure between the steel sheets is an imitation of the hollow structure of bird bones. Once again we see proof of the innovative power of intersections. Solutions found in nature are used to achieve technological leaps and industrial research innovations are combined to create a product that is really hard to compete with.