I spent a month last year in the underdeveloped country of Namibia. Residents were proud to tell me that Namibia is the only country in the world that has a constitution that embraces environmental sustainability.To Namibians, it was a recognition that protection of theirs materials resources was critical to their future. Since I’ve returned to the US, however, it’s become clear that the concept of sustainability, and specifically, sustainable design, will soon become important to us as well.
One specific issue I want to focus on is use of renewable resources as a feedstock for polymers. The immediate reason isn’t really environmental, at least for design engineers. Unstable oil supplies triggered massive runups in plastics prices two years ago. Today it makes sense to study the potential of corn-based polymers for mechanical design projects. Sound crazy? At the giant plastics fair in Germany this fall (K 2007), DuPont plans to present technical data on new grades of Sorona and Hytrel that are corn based. Stay tuned.
A new compression molding compound material combines the light weight, strength, and rigidity of carbon fibers with the flexibility and lower cost of glass materials in a composite compatible with automotive production.
Plastic bearings are real and millions of them are in use doing heavy-duty jobs we used to think only metals could do. Some of Germany-based igus's bearings are traveling around the world as functional parts in a car to demonstrate what they can do.
Baxter showed off his 2.0-derived moves at ATX West this year. The big red guy still looks pretty much the same, but has some new abilities, mostly due to software. The research robot version is now being used in corporate R&D departments as a design platform.
End-production using 3D printing, including objects made of multiple materials in one pass, is getting closer to reality as we saw on the exhibit floor at the recent Pacific Design & Manufacturing Show.