I spent the day yesterday at Sabic Innovative Plastics in Pittsfield, MA with John Dodge, chief editor of Design News. I’ve visited the Polymer Processing Development Center there many times when it was under the aegis of GE Plastics. This was my first visit since the company became part of Sabic. I have a few quick observations with more detailed reports to follow, including video of some of the technology in the center.
1) It’s clearly business as usual. There has been some turnover of personnel (most recently CMO John Carrington) but there remains the same intense focus on marketing and technology.
2) The PPDC is one of the best plastics processing labs in the USA. Bayer and DuPont are also right up there. Under way at the PPDC is work on new materials for Blu-ray Discs, a process called heat/cool to improve the surface finish on filled materials, new composites (including an Ultem foam) for aircraft interiors, fiber spinning and induction heating, which I wrote about previously. More to come on these points.
3) There has been impressive expansion globally of the application centers in recent years, including a new center of excellence in Holland on energy and fluid engineering. One big story emerging is the use of a specially extruded Noryl PPO sheet to replace an aluminum structure for solar panels. More to come. Rick Pontillo, general manger of global application development, also hinted at the first major new investment under Sabic. Details forthcoming once the PR machine gets in motion.
4) Remember Ecomagination? It was part of the buzz for the Chevy Volt concept car because a thermoplastic hood was made from “upcycled” plastics bottles. Well, it’s a GE trademark. Ecomagination was a creative strategy by GE to build business through green products and policies. One of the burdens of the program, particularly to a major plastic producer, was a requirement to reduce the company’s carbon dioxide emissions by four percent. GE Plastics represented almost half of GE’s emissions. Sabic Innovative Plastics is re-examining its environmental posture, and Ecomagination won’t be part of the plan. The upshot will be interesting because it will be a peek into Sabic’s own thinking on the environment. How strongly can one of the Kingdom’s biggest businesses come out against greenhouse gases? How much sense do the “upcycled” bottles make right now as a feedstock? The material sells at a premium, but it clearly fits into the business plans for a few customers. Another point: GE Plastics had no play on bio feedstocks, unlike one of its big competitors, DuPont. I suspect this is another issue Sabic’s policy experts are closely examining.
It’s not clear yet how GE Plastics will change as part of Sabic. I think the emphasis on innovative marketing and technology will continue. I suspect commitment to environmental improvement will also be important, but will look quite different from a GE posture.
New versions of BASF's Ecovio line are both compostable and designed for either injection molding or thermoforming. These combinations are becoming more common for the single-use bioplastics used in food service and food packaging applications, but are still not widely available.
The 100-percent solar-powered Solar Impulse plane flies on a piloted, cross-country flight this summer over the US as a prelude to the longer, round-the-world flight by its successor aircraft planned for 2015.
GE Aviation expects to chop off about 25 percent of the total 3D printing time of metallic production components for its LEAP Turbofan engine, using in-process inspection. That's pretty amazing, considering how slow additive manufacturing (AM) build times usually are.
For industrial control applications, or even a simple assembly line, that machine can go almost 24/7 without a break. But what happens when the task is a little more complex? That’s where the “smart” machine would come in. The smart machine is one that has some simple (or complex in some cases) processing capability to be able to adapt to changing conditions. Such machines are suited for a host of applications, including automotive, aerospace, defense, medical, computers and electronics, telecommunications, consumer goods, and so on. This radio show will show what’s possible with smart machines, and what tradeoffs need to be made to implement such a solution.