Cool, light, and strong: CREAX and Bekaert explore the possibilities of metal foam

Combining the advantages of metal with those of a permeable, lightweight material, metal foam lends itself to a wide variety of applications. Bekaert, a global player in advanced metal transformation, opened up a world of possibilities by lowering the material’s production cost. But how to identify these new applications, link them to the appropriate markets, and boost revenue? Enter the Creax Market Development approach.

Bekaert: world-class steel made in Belgium

cross industry learning for innovation - metal foam

Since its inception in 1880, Bekaert Group has been a global household name for advanced steel wire transformation and coating technologies. Today, the Flanders-based company employs over 30,000 people in more than 120 countries.

With its cutting-edge steel wire products, Bekaert serves markets as diverse as automotive, construction, energy & utilities, agriculture, and consumer goods. Throughout the company’s history, innovation has always been a key driver of its technological leadership. 

Challenge: bringing metal foam down to earth

Due to its remarkable properties, open-celled aluminum foam — or metal foam — can serve many different purposes. Until now, steep production costs have limited the material’s use to elite industries such as aerospace and renewable energy.

Bekaert’s efforts have significantly reduced the production cost of metal foam. The result is an affordable material suitable for a vast range of new application fields, from car manufacturing and chemical production to machine development. For Bekaert, the challenge consisted of not only identifying new uses for the material, but also of finding and tapping into the right market opportunities.

Creax’s structured approach has given us many valuable insights, not only into the endless possibilities of metal foam, but also into the ways we can market the material to drive our business.

Hugo Lievens - TFF

From idea to application in 3 steps

Bekaert decided to bring CREAX on board early on in the process. Their task? To discover new applications for metal foam, explore unfamiliar markets and their opportunities, evaluate these opportunities and guide Bekaert towards a successful implementation — ultimately increasing revenue. How? By applying a proven, structured approach. 

First, CREAX formally defined the material’s specs, effectively mapping out its differentiating properties. The most important specifications of metal foam are its organic open-cell structure, extremely high aspect ratio, isotropic property, varying densities, and its ability to be welded onto metallic parts.

Based on the properties defined in step one, the team embarked on a quest to discover new application domains. Information sources included scientific literature, patents and comprehensive, whole-team brainstorming sessions. The result? A list of novel applications linked to a specfic market.

In close collaboration with Bekaert, the CREAX team followed up with an evaluation of every possible new application on the list. For each one, market attractiveness and demand, expected time to market, competition, and technical viability were taken into account.


Valuable innovations

At the end of this process, CREAX provided Bekaert with a select list of applications and market combinations. Some highlights: metal foam can be used as LED cooling for building and automotive lighting, as a sound absorber and heat recuperation muffler, and for oil cooling in vehicles. Feasibility tests determined that each application was fresh and ready for Bekaert to conquer.

By virtue of its partnership with Creax, Bekaert was able to extend the sales market of its metal foam to design engineers, car manufacturers, chemical plant engineers, machine developers and many other innovative minds.

Explore the unfamiliar, discover unknown treasures

Your product, material or process might solve more problems than you think. Get to know our Market Development approach and find out how out-of-domain inspiration can help boost your business and increase your revenue.