It makes imminent sense to design cars or other products in Asia for cars that are sold in Asia. GM did that with Buick and ended up with a different look and feel that was a huge hit in China. It doesn’t make so much sense, however, to offshore significant amounts of design work to low-cost countries like Vietnam, which lack skilled and experienced design engineers. Nissan has put together a team of 700 Vietnamese engineers in Hanoi to design basic auto parts. According to a story in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, “The Vietnamese engineers, many of whom have never driven a car before, earn about $200 a month—about a tenth of what their counterparts bring home in Japan.” Sure new software programs are a help, but there’s no replacing years of hard-earned knowledge on materials’ and other technology. Even experienced engineers sometime stub their toes because of poor knowledge of how a part design can affect tool costs, to say nothing of how a poor design can cause partial or total tool failure. Nissan/Renault CEO Carlos Ghosn gets a lot of props on Wall Street, but his approach to low-cost engineering is naïve and foolhardy.
As the 3D printing and overall additive manufacturing ecosystem grows, standards and guidelines from standards bodies and government organizations are increasing. Multiple players with multiple needs are also driving the role of 3DP and AM as enabling technologies for distributed manufacturing.
A growing though not-so-obvious role for 3D printing, 4D printing, and overall additive manufacturing is their use in fabricating new materials and enabling new or improved manufacturing and assembly processes. Individual engineers, OEMs, university labs, and others are reinventing the technology to suit their own needs.
For vehicles to meet the 2025 Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards, three things must happen: customers must look beyond the data sheet and engage materials supplier earlier, and new integrated multi-materials are needed to make step-change improvements.
3D printing, 4D printing, and various types of additive manufacturing (AM) will get even bigger in 2015. We're not talking about consumer use, which gets most of the attention, but processes and technologies that will affect how design engineers design products and how manufacturing engineers make them. For now, the biggest industries are still aerospace and medical, while automotive and architecture continue to grow.
More and more -- that's what we'll see from plastics and composites in 2015, more types of plastics and more ways they can be used. Two of the fastest-growing uses will be automotive parts, plus medical implants and devices. New types of plastics will include biodegradable materials, plastics that can be easily recycled, and some that do both.
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