Metallic Bubble Wrap

Polymer bubble wrap is the kind of every day material that people love to touch (and pop). Despite this, it has been used for little else besides packaging – at least until now. Designers are beginning to take interest in bubble wrap as a design material and researchers have recently even devised a new type of metallic bubble wrap.

Bubble wrap as a material has almost universal recognition and people love popping its bubbles. So why not explore the connection people have with this ubiquitous material by re-inventing it for use in luggage, toys, furniture or maybe even in an architectural feature wall? Creative designers have found endless applications for bubble wrap. American designer Stephen Turbek for example has created a bubble wrap calendar with bubbles that can be popped each day. The design collaborative PROJECTiONE has innovated bathroom tiles based on bubble wrap. The designers pop the bubbles to create unique geometric patterns and then vacuum-form styrofoam over the bubbles to create finished tiles that are backed with particle board. The material has now even been re-invented as a metallic version of itself.

Developed at North Carolina State University, metallic bubble wrap is only a few millimeters thick but its stronger and lighter than a sheet of metal of a comparable size. It is made by creating tiny indentations in sheets of aluminium with a metal stud roller. A calcium carbonate-based foaming agent is placed between two indented aluminium sheets and the resulting sandwich is sealed with a heavy roller. These bonded sheets are then placed in a furnace. The heat causes the foaming agent to decay and break down into air bubbles that become trapped as a bubbly cushion within the indentations. When the material is bent, the bubbles deform and absorb energy, allowing the material to bend more than it would without the bubbles. So far, metallic bubble wrap has not been developed for commercial use, but there is significant interest in its applications which range from safety helmets to luggage, and it may even be suitable as a building material. It is thought that like its cousin, polymer bubble wrap, this new material is inexpensive and easy to manufacture.

The only debatable drawback we see is that the metallic bubbles are incredibly strong, removing the fun of popping bubbles!