One of the weirder materials developments from the economic slowdown is a shortage of sawdust. Prices are up some 25 percent in the past two years, if you can get it. Sawdust is not normally considered an engineering material, but it’s often used as an additive for plastic compounds that cover steering wheels and dashboards. Demand for wood plastic composites has grown dramatically and is close to a billion pounds this year, mostly for construction applications. Composites are typically close to half wood flour and high-density polyethylene, with a smattering of other additives such as stabilizers and pigments. Wood plastic composites are favored for automotive applications because they have a lower specific gravity than compounds made with other inorganic materials. They also give an “organic” look and are considered environmentally friendly. The new economics, however, surely will slow penetration. The reason is the slowdown in house construction, which is slowing timber operations. The weakness of the US dollar versus the Canadian dollar also is having an impact.
A new compression molding compound material combines the light weight, strength, and rigidity of carbon fibers with the flexibility and lower cost of glass materials in a composite compatible with automotive production.
Plastic bearings are real and millions of them are in use doing heavy-duty jobs we used to think only metals could do. Some of Germany-based igus's bearings are traveling around the world as functional parts in a car to demonstrate what they can do.
Baxter showed off his 2.0-derived moves at ATX West this year. The big red guy still looks pretty much the same, but has some new abilities, mostly due to software. The research robot version is now being used in corporate R&D departments as a design platform.
End-production using 3D printing, including objects made of multiple materials in one pass, is getting closer to reality as we saw on the exhibit floor at the recent Pacific Design & Manufacturing Show.