An ultra lightweight concept car from Toyota is making its North American debut this morning at the 2008 Chicago Auto Show. The body frame is made from carbon-fiber reinforced plastic (CFRP), the same material used in the Boeing Dreamliner fuselage and wings. Toyota says the CFRP material “is lighter and stronger than traditional metals, creating a shock-absorbing like structure with cross-sections that help absorb energy during an impact.” Its curb weight of 926 pounds is one-third the weight of the Prius hybrid. Metal is also replaced in the roof of the concept car. The 1/X is made from a bioplastic derived from kenaf and ramie plants. “The result is a roof that improves heat insulation, emits less carbon dioxide, increases the amount of light entering the cabin, and reduces noise,” says the Toyota announcement. Ramie is a fibrous plant native to eastern Asia. This is the first time I’ve heard of it being used in plastics. Kenaf has been under study as reinforcement in plastics for more than a dozen years. Toyota has been a leader in developing biplastics in recent years, but the 1/X announcements leaves many questions unanswered. What is the plastic used in the “bioplastic”? kenaf and ramie are reinforcing and filler media. Is it PLA, a PLA hybrid, or something else? What are the body panels made of? Is CFRP practical as a material of construction in cars, or is this just a great PR model? High cost and tight supplies of CFRP could limit its widespread use in cars. Are there any unique glazing concepts in the 1/X?
As the 3D printing and overall additive manufacturing ecosystem grows, standards and guidelines from standards bodies and government organizations are increasing. Multiple players with multiple needs are also driving the role of 3DP and AM as enabling technologies for distributed manufacturing.
A growing though not-so-obvious role for 3D printing, 4D printing, and overall additive manufacturing is their use in fabricating new materials and enabling new or improved manufacturing and assembly processes. Individual engineers, OEMs, university labs, and others are reinventing the technology to suit their own needs.
For vehicles to meet the 2025 Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards, three things must happen: customers must look beyond the data sheet and engage materials supplier earlier, and new integrated multi-materials are needed to make step-change improvements.
3D printing, 4D printing, and various types of additive manufacturing (AM) will get even bigger in 2015. We're not talking about consumer use, which gets most of the attention, but processes and technologies that will affect how design engineers design products and how manufacturing engineers make them. For now, the biggest industries are still aerospace and medical, while automotive and architecture continue to grow.
More and more -- that's what we'll see from plastics and composites in 2015, more types of plastics and more ways they can be used. Two of the fastest-growing uses will be automotive parts, plus medical implants and devices. New types of plastics will include biodegradable materials, plastics that can be easily recycled, and some that do both.
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