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.
How 3D printing fits into the digital thread, and the relationship between its uses for prototyping and for manufacturing, was the subject of a talk by Proto Labs' Rich Baker at last week's Design & Manufacturing Minneapolis.
How can automakers, aerospace contractors, and other OEMs get new metal alloys that are stronger, harder, and can survive ever higher temperatures? One way is to redesign their crystalline structures at the nanoscale and microscale.
Although a lot of the excitement about 3D printing and additive manufacturing surrounds its ability to make end-products and functional prototypes, some often ignored applications are the big improvements that can come by using it for tooling, jigs, and fixtures.
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