Booming demand for aircraft and power generation plants is fueling higher requirements for a specialized investment casting process that creates complex hollow internal shapes. Use of molded ceramic cores allows turbine engine blades and vanes to be cast to size with complex cooling passages, permitting engines to operate at higher temperatures with greater efficiency. GE Aviation has a record number of engines on order through 2012, its third record year in a row. The cores are also used for turbines in natural gas power generation plants.
One of the beneficiaries is a company called Certech, which is the largest independent producer of ceramic cores for investment casting. Technology growth is in materials development. “We’re always looking for a better mousetrap to give a better yield to the customer,” says Michael Kasberg, vice president and general manager of Certech. “When they pour metal around our parts sometimes they want to pour hotter metal. As a result you need a ceramic that won’t melt when it sees a higher temperature. “
SpaceX has 3D printed and successfully hot-fired a SuperDraco engine chamber made of Inconel, a high-performance superalloy, using direct metal laser sintering (DMLS). The company's first 3D-printed rocket engine part, a main oxidizer valve body for the Falcon 9 rocket, launched in January and is now qualified on all Falcon 9 flights.
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and MIT have 3D-printed a new class of metamaterials that are both exceptionally light and have exceptional strength and stiffness. The new metamaterials maintain a nearly constant stiffness per unit of mass density, over three orders of magnitude.
Smart composites that let the material's structural health be monitored automatically and continuously are getting closer to reality. R&D partners in an EU-sponsored project have demonstrated what they say is the first complete, miniaturized, fiber-optic sensor system entirely embedded inside a fiber-reinforced composite.
The amount of plastic clogging the ocean continues to grow. Some startling, not-so-good news has come out recently about the roles plastic is playing in the ocean, as well as more heartening news about efforts to collect and reuse it.
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