It was apparent at the recent Great Designs in Steel seminar that steel plans on stealing a page or two from the plastics’ playbook in the key automotive battleground. Steel has several advantages to start with. The manufacturing infrastructure to make steel parts exists, and in fact represents a significant capital investment. Steel also has a strong recycling track record (to say nothing of performance). It seems intuitive that the high gas prices will kick start already existing efforts to reduce weight of cars. But not so fast. New grades of steel reduce weight, and also play into the trend to boost safety performance, particularly for the sides and rear of vehicles. For example an ultra high strength steel (boron-alloyed 22 MnB5) cuts 2 kg for a side crash panel in BMW’s new X6 Sports Activity Coupe. The seven-passenger Acura MDX body structure contains 56 percent high-strength steels, including several new advanced grades. It may surprise some, but some of these new grades are significantly more formable than your father’s steel, allowing creation of complex shapes previously only possible with plastic.
Artificially created metamaterials are already appearing in niche applications like electronics, communications, and defense, says a new report from Lux Research. How quickly they become mainstream depends on cost-effective manufacturing methods, which will include additive manufacturing.
SpaceX has 3D printed and successfully hot-fired a SuperDraco engine chamber made of Inconel, a high-performance superalloy, using direct metal laser sintering (DMLS). The company's first 3D-printed rocket engine part, a main oxidizer valve body for the Falcon 9 rocket, launched in January and is now qualified on all Falcon 9 flights.
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and MIT have 3D-printed a new class of metamaterials that are both exceptionally light and have exceptional strength and stiffness. The new metamaterials maintain a nearly constant stiffness per unit of mass density, over three orders of magnitude.
Smart composites that let the material's structural health be monitored automatically and continuously are getting closer to reality. R&D partners in an EU-sponsored project have demonstrated what they say is the first complete, miniaturized, fiber-optic sensor system entirely embedded inside a fiber-reinforced composite.
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