Tooling costs to make plastic bumpers and fascia can be reduced by a factor of five using a thermoformable sheet, which for the first time can now be laser welded. Fittings can be welded that allow attachment to cars. “In the past, it was impossible to fasten components to the thermoformed sheet in a cost-effective way,” comments Thilo Stier, innovation manager for A. Schulman, a plastic compounder based in Akron, OH. The main reason is that the visible surface of the sheet would show sink marks on the cosmetic surface.The solution is use of a black laser-absorbing layer to concentrate the heat zone on the area that is being welded. A fitting can be welded in two to three seconds, Stier says.
The new technology could put Invasion five-layer extruded thermoformable sheet on a fast track. Schulman introduced its Invision sheet product in 2006 and formed A. Schulman Invision, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary. Schulman is building a new Invision plant in Findlay, OH. Sheet can be extruded in thicknesses ranging from 0.4 mm to 12 mm. Properties include good impact strength, UV stability and Class A surface, according to Stier.
As the 3D printing and overall additive manufacturing ecosystem grows, standards and guidelines from standards bodies and government organizations are increasing. Multiple players with multiple needs are also driving the role of 3DP and AM as enabling technologies for distributed manufacturing.
A growing though not-so-obvious role for 3D printing, 4D printing, and overall additive manufacturing is their use in fabricating new materials and enabling new or improved manufacturing and assembly processes. Individual engineers, OEMs, university labs, and others are reinventing the technology to suit their own needs.
For vehicles to meet the 2025 Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards, three things must happen: customers must look beyond the data sheet and engage materials supplier earlier, and new integrated multi-materials are needed to make step-change improvements.
3D printing, 4D printing, and various types of additive manufacturing (AM) will get even bigger in 2015. We're not talking about consumer use, which gets most of the attention, but processes and technologies that will affect how design engineers design products and how manufacturing engineers make them. For now, the biggest industries are still aerospace and medical, while automotive and architecture continue to grow.
More and more -- that's what we'll see from plastics and composites in 2015, more types of plastics and more ways they can be used. Two of the fastest-growing uses will be automotive parts, plus medical implants and devices. New types of plastics will include biodegradable materials, plastics that can be easily recycled, and some that do both.
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