Plastics made from renewable feedstocks, such as corn, hold an odd place in the engineering playbook. They don’t offer any engineering advantages, and, in fact, offer significantly less heat resistance and mechanical strength than their hydrocarbon brethren, which continue to improve in performance. They also have no economic advantage, and remain, significantly more expensive than hydrocarbon-based plastics, even with oil at $100+/bbl. Yet production plans for bioplastics are rapidly expanding, based on the idea they are good for the environment. Some cities are behind the push, such as San Francisco’s ban on polyethylene bags. That strategy is superficial since paper bags create significantly more air and water pollution, and cost ten times more than plastic bags. Such efforts, however, will create a market for compostable plastics. Fast food chains may use compostable plastics for forks and knives. Will bioplastics reduce our dependence on oil? Even that point is debatable given the energy costs required to create and transport biofeedstocks. And surges in grain prices may be an even bigger penalty than high oil prices. At least we can choose not to drive SUVs; we can’t choose not to eat.
The bans aimed at plastics generally lack technical understanding or context. If you’re looking for some plastic engineering insight, consider attending the Annual Technical Conference (ANTEC) of the Society of Plastics Engineers May 4-8 in Milwaukee. There will be a special session May 6 on “Advances in Polymers from Renewable Resources”. One keynote is: “Bioplastics: New Generation Polymers for Reducing Carbon Footprint and Improving Environmental Performance”, which will be delivered by Professor Ramani Narayan of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at Michigan State University. Dr. Narayan has put some real science into the carbon footprint debate. Other sessions will tackle nuts and bolds technical issues such as improving the heat performance of PLA. The session has a clear pro-bioplastics feel to it. But this is the place to hear the pitch. There will be plenty of plastics engineers in the audience to keep the presentations on target.
Instead of sifting through huge amounts of technical data looking for answers to assembly problems, engineers can now benefit from 3M's new initiative -- 3M Assembly Solutions. The company has organized its wealth of adhesive and tape solutions into six typical application areas, making it easier to find the best products to solve their real-world assembly and bonding problems.
Many of the materials in this slideshow are resins or elastomers, plus reinforced materials, styrenics, and PLA masterbatches. Applications range from automotive and aerospace to industrial, consumer electronics and wearables, consumer goods, medical and healthcare, as well as sporting goods, and materials for protecting food and beverages.
Engineers trying to keep track of the ever-ballooning number of materials and machines for additive manufacturing and 3D printing now have some relief: a free searchable database with more than 350 machines and 450 different materials.
At JEC Europe Dow Automotive introduced a new ultra-fast, under-60-second molding cycle time for its commercial-grade VORAFORCE 5300 epoxy resin matrix for carbon composites. It's aimed at high-volume automotive manufacturing.
Focus on Fundamentals consists of 45-minute on-line classes that cover a host of technologies. You learn without leaving the comfort of your desk. All classes are taught by subject-matter experts and all are archived. So if you can't attend live, attend at your convenience.