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.
At the JEC Europe 2015 composites show in Paris last month, makers of composite materials, software, and process equipment showed off their latest innovations. This year's show saw some announcements related to automotive applications, but many of the improvements came in the world of aerospace.
The DuPont-sponsored Plastics Industry Trends survey shows engineers want improved performance in a broad range of plastics and better recycling technology. These concerns top even processing enhancements that improve productivity.
Plastics leader SABIC recently announced a global initiative to help its customers take advantage of additive manufacturing (AM) and also advance 3D printing (3DP) technologies in several application areas. The company's plans go way beyond materials, and also include design, processing, and part performance.
A theme that was reflected in several ways at NPE 2015 was the use of 3D printing to assist in, or improve on, injection molding, as well as improvements in 3D printing materials and processes that are making better functional prototypes and end-use parts.
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