There's an explosion in new materials and processing systems that expand the capability of engineers to design industrial products for demanding new applications.
One example is the continuing rebirth of injection molding as not just a plastics process, but as a technique for integrating design elements at low cost for materials made from steel, nonferrous metals, ceramics and liquid silicone rubber. Some processes even combine these materials in novel ways, such as silicone rubber teamed with conventional thermoplastics (often polypropylene) in a single-mold, multi-shot process.
The drive to reduce weight in cars is spurring growth for powder-injection molding, as well as liquid magnesium molding, often referred to as thixo-molding. Volkswagen, for example, is starting up captive thixo-molding capability at its huge plant in Kassel, Germany. Magna Corp., a major Tier One supplier, has created a subsidiary in Ontario to produce large molded magnesium parts. Magna's G-Mag unit is a development partner with Husky Injection Molding, which has introduced a 1,000-ton thixo machine. Another growing player is Battenfeld, which demonstrated its HM 40/130 machine with Unilog B6 Servo Closed Loop Control at the PIM (Powder Injection Molding) World Congress this summer.
Automotive and medical applications are fueling global sales growth of close to 13 percent of PIM parts, says Professor Randall M. German of Mississippi State University, author of “Powder Injection Molding Design and Applications.”
One of the more interesting demonstration projects of new materials' capabilities is a solar-powered aircraft under development in Switzerland with a lot of engineering support coming from Solvay Advanced Polymers in Alpharetta, GA. Eight plastic parts have already been qualified for the Solar Impulse, including three from other Solvay units. The plane will be powered by 200 sq meters of photovoltaic cells, putting severe restrictions on the weight of all components. Bolts and screws, for example, are being made from a new self-reinforcing polymer called PrimoSpire.
There's a huge leap of technology under way.