One of my favorite themes in recent months has focused on how engineers can fight rising materials costs with new designs. Metals costs are still about double what they were four years ago. It looks like steel prices will be rising another 10 to 20 percent in coming months based on what’s happening in iron ore and coking coal contracts. Contract prices for the coal used as fuel in blast furnaces are rising 200 percent.
One way to mitigate rising metals prices is to consider net shape forming processes, such as metal injection molding. This is still a relatively small business, mostly because of its newness. Specialist molders mold metal powder mixed with plastic in injection molding machines that are only slightly modified. Green parts go into a furnace where the plastic is molded out, creating a “nearly” isotropic part. Metal molding makes a lot of sense when it competes against mutli-step processes, say where you are welding to a stamping to a machined part. Metal molding is best suited for complex parts under 100 grams.
I’ll be writing about metal molding in detail in coming months. For now, a great resource is the Metal Injection Molding Association, which is one of six trade groups organized within the Metal Powder Industries Federation.
An MIT research team has invented what they see as a solution to the need for biodegradable 3D-printable materials made from something besides petroleum-based sources: a water-based robotic additive extrusion method that makes objects from biodegradable hydrogel composites.
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.
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