Hate parallel parking? Maybe the so-called “Smart Car” is for you. I first saw one at the German plastics fair (the K) in 1998. It looked more like an enclosed golf cart than a car to me. And, I sure didn’t try to get in one. It’s less than 100 inches long, and probably would be crushed by a very large kid on heelies pushing a wheelbarrow loaded with bricks. I bring this up because DaimlerChrysler wants to sell the vehicle in the United States. I’m not sure why because it was less than a stellar success in Europe where its tiny size was a perfect fit for older towns. I suspect it’s a reaction to Chrysler’s own plans to sell Chinese Tiggios in America. I don’t know why they’re called “smart cars”. That term is usually used in reference to cars with a lot of artificial intelligence. This car is more famous for its extensive use of plastics to save weight. They were a test bed for thermoplastics body panels from GE Plastics. The new “smartfortwo” (a littletoocute) features what is described as the largest polycarbonate roof ever fitted to a car. Plastic glazing is definitely coming, as I described in the Chevy Volt. But the Smart car isn’t for me. If you want to do something short of jumping off a bridge with Al Gore to save the planet, buy a Smart Car.
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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