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.
The new composites manufacturing innovation center is intended to be a source of grand challenges for industry, like the kind that got us to the moon under JFK. These aren't the words its new CEO Craig Blue used, but that's the idea and the vision behind the Institute for Advanced Composites Manufacturing Innovation (IACMI).
The 100% solar-powered airplane Solar Impulse 2 is prepping for its upcoming flight, becoming the first plane to fly around the world without using fuel. It's able to do so because of above-average performance by all of the technologies that go into it, especially materials.
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.
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