Considering a move to bioplastics? Consider the experience of John Deere, which is now in the eighth year of a program to use soybean and corn feedstocks that was not originally driven for green reasons. The biomaterials are used in combine panels, backhoe loader hoods, and tractor hoods. Greg McCunnn, who runs the project, says the materials must be cost competitive and must be a performance drop-in for petroleum-based plastics. Needless to say, significant supply chain work was involved, and included funding from the United Soybean Board. Ashland Specialty Chemicals developed polyester resins that include soy and corn feedstocks, while processors Ashley Industrial Molding and Budd (currently Continental Structural Plastics) worked on the molding side. There were also issues related to painting and mold release.
And it amounts to more than a hill of beans: each combine made with the compound uses 1.1 bushels of soybeans and 0.5 bushels of corn.
Alcoa has unveiled a new manufacturing and materials technology for making aluminum sheet, aimed especially at automotive, industrial, and packaging applications. If all its claims are true, this is a major breakthrough, and may convince more automotive engineers to use aluminum.
NASA has just installed a giant robot to help in its research on composite aerospace materials, like those used for the Orion spacecraft. The agency wants to shave the time it takes to get composites through design, test, and manufacturing stages.
The European Space Agency (ESA) is working with architects Foster + Partners to test the possibility of using lunar regolith, or moon rocks, and 3D printing to make structures for use on the moon. A new video shows some cool animations of a hypothetical lunar mission that carries out this vision.
If there's one thing 3D printing's good for, it's customization. New Balance Athletic Shoe Company has begun using 3D printing to make customized spike plates for its running shoes made for members of its Team New Balance runners. They provide better traction and shave off a tiny bit of weight.
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