Fasteners—usually the less glamorous part of a mechanical design—have been grabbing headlines lately. First it was a lack of fasteners that created (or was at least blamed for) the first delay announcement for the Boeing Dreamliner. Now two metallurgists have put out a book that really dredges up the past. In “What Really Sank the Titanic” , coauthors Jennifer Hooper McCarty and Tim Foecke say that substandard rivets were responsible for the rapid descent of the supposedly unsinkable vessel. Metallurgical testing of 48 rivets recovered from the Titanic showed that slag concentrations were at 9 percent, six or seven percent higher than they should have been. Slag is a brittle byproduct of the iron making process. Design engineers put the weaker rivets in areas expected to see less stress, such as the bow. Unfortunately, that is right where the Titanic scraped an iceberg. McCarty and Foecke postulate that fewer compartments would have burst if better rivets had been used. It’s possible, they say, that the Titanic could even have limped into Halifax. They also suggest that the bad rivets may have resulted from a rush to get the boat built at a time when rivets were in tight supply.
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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