News that GE wants to sell its plastics business is of interest to design engineers. In the past 25 years, engineering plastics suppliers, led in part by GE Plastics, have been important developers of exciting new designs for plastics, such as instrument panels and various business machinery. Rising raw materials costs (oil-related, primarily) have reduced the profitability of the business and made it a weak performer for high-flying GE. This was surely a tough pill for the company to swallow because famous CEO Jack Welch cut his teeth at GE plastics after graduation as a chemical engineer from the University of Massachusetts.
One personal anecdote shows the role GE Plastics has played in design development. I was having dinner many years ago with a man named Uwe Wascher who was a VP for GE Plastics. After a few drinks, he recalled his role in the development of Xenoy as the first ever-bumper material for a European car. Wascher, who is German and was based in Europe, said he sold the OEM on polycarbonate before testing had been fully completed. PC (developed by GE’S Dan Fox about the same time Bayer also discovered the polymer) was used on some prototype models, and was damaged by gasoline spills because of its poor chemical resistance. Washer set up a major research skunk works in GE corporate office in Europe. The 24/7 push—because the model was close to production—led to development of a PC/PBT polyester alloy known as Xenoy. The rest is history.
Wascher left GE several years ago, and probably has PR people with him when he has dinner with reporters these days.
At the JEC Europe 2015 composites show in Paris last month, makers of composite materials, software, and process equipment showed off their latest innovations. This year's show saw some announcements related to automotive applications, but many of the improvements came in the world of aerospace.
The DuPont-sponsored Plastics Industry Trends survey shows engineers want improved performance in a broad range of plastics and better recycling technology. These concerns top even processing enhancements that improve productivity.
Plastics leader SABIC recently announced a global initiative to help its customers take advantage of additive manufacturing (AM) and also advance 3D printing (3DP) technologies in several application areas. The company's plans go way beyond materials, and also include design, processing, and part performance.
A theme that was reflected in several ways at NPE 2015 was the use of 3D printing to assist in, or improve on, injection molding, as well as improvements in 3D printing materials and processes that are making better functional prototypes and end-use parts.
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