You might want to consider new design strategies for materials that contain large amounts of nickel, such as stainless steel. Prices entered the year at very close to a record high on an inflation-adjusted basis ($22/lb). Average prices for 2006 were 63% higher than 2005. Tags may rise slightly again this year because of some supply disruptions and booming demand in China for stainless. China produced 5 million metric tons of stainless steel last year. Amazingly, about 10 million more metric tons of stainless are under construction. About two-thirds of all nickel output goes into stainless. The addition of nickel to aluminum creates a super alloy that maintains structural integrity during changes in atmospheric pressure. For that reason, they’re widely used in aircraft, another area under pressure because of Chinese expansion.
Alcoa has unveiled a new manufacturing and materials technology for making aluminum sheet, aimed especially at automotive, industrial, and packaging applications. If all its claims are true, this is a major breakthrough, and may convince more automotive engineers to use aluminum.
NASA has just installed a giant robot to help in its research on composite aerospace materials, like those used for the Orion spacecraft. The agency wants to shave the time it takes to get composites through design, test, and manufacturing stages.
The European Space Agency (ESA) is working with architects Foster + Partners to test the possibility of using lunar regolith, or moon rocks, and 3D printing to make structures for use on the moon. A new video shows some cool animations of a hypothetical lunar mission that carries out this vision.
If there's one thing 3D printing's good for, it's customization. New Balance Athletic Shoe Company has begun using 3D printing to make customized spike plates for its running shoes made for members of its Team New Balance runners. They provide better traction and shave off a tiny bit of weight.
Two teams, one based in the US and one in Europe, have 3D printed space-worthy support structures for satellite antenna arrays. These aren't prototypes: they're fully functioning antenna supports that will operate while exposed to the harsh temperatures and radiation of outer space.
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