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.
These new 3D-printing technologies and printers include some that are truly boundary-breaking: a sophisticated new sub-$10,000, 10-plus materials bioprinter, the first industrial-strength silicone 3D-printing service, and a clever twist on 3D printing and thermoforming for making high-quality realistic models.
Using simulation to guide the drafting process can speed up the design and production of 3D-printed nanostructures, reduce errors, and even make it possible to scale up the structures. Oak Ridge National Laboratory has developed a model that does this.
Engineers need workhorse materials with beefy mechanical properties for industrial designs made with 3D printing. Very few have been designed from the ground up for additive manufacturing, but that picture is beginning to change.
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