1. Tough economic conditions will force greater efforts to reduce cost and improve product effectiveness through accelerated design engineering. Value engineering processes took a back seat when business was booming. Now efforts will be redoubled to find more efficient assembly systems and more cost-effective materials.
2. Injection molding will gain more attention as a design tool, for plastics, metals and ceramics. Advances in materials, simulation and processing technology make injection molding more feasible for difficult (e.g. high temperature) applications. There will be growing emphasis on molders who offer design support and advanced technology, as other molders fall by the wayside.
3. Weight reduction efforts in cars will get far more serious as OEMs such as General Motors finish materials engineering for electric cars, such as the Chevy Volt. The short-term winners will be known materials solutions (e.g., forged aluminum wheels) rather than exotic and very expensive solutions (e.g., large scale use of carbon fiber composites).
4. Medical engineering will rise in importance as OEMs continue to move away from low-margin manufacturing. The troubles in the car industry received huge press in 2008, but this is a trend established more than 20 years ago.
5. The Japanese companies will lead in new engineering applications for plastics using natural feedstocks in place of hydrocarbons. Sixty per cent of the interior components of Toyota’s new hybrid will be made from plant-based plastics. Parts include scuff plates, headliners, and seat cushions.
Some of the biggest self-assembled building blocks and structures made from engineered DNA have been developed by researchers at Harvard's Wyss Institute. The largest, a hexagonal prism, is one-tenth the size of an average bacterium.
Arevo Labs' end-production 3D printing technology for carbon composites includes a high-temperature, filament fusion printer head design and firmware for use with the company's new carbon fiber and nanotube reinforced high-temperature matrix polymers like PEEK.
Stratasys will buy Solid Concepts and Harvest Technologies and combine them with its RedEye service business. The plan takes aim at end-production manufacturing and will create one of the biggest commercial 3D printing and AM service bureaus.
The International Federation of Robotics reports that global sales of industrial robots decreased by 4% in 2012 over 2011. The biggest hit was electrical/electronics manufacturing, down by 13%; but by region, the Amerficas did well.
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