One cool way to make enclosures for short production runs (say less than 10,000) is plastics fabrication. When most people hear about plastics fabrication they think of signage, or a fairly butchered kind of plastics carpentry. That’s not what I’m talking about.
There’s a relatively new technology that combines sophisticated use of CAD engineering with production techniques borrowed from the sheet metal and cabinet-making businesses. Plastic sheet, such as ABS alloy, is machined to create vents or recesses, and then pieces are cut from a large plastic sheet (as large as four feet by eight feet). Joint and edge detail is then performed on a routing machine. Pieces are then scored on a table saw for bending with heat in a custom machine and assembled with a solvent-bonding process. That’s a quick summary of the process used by one of the manufacturers, Toolless Plastics Solutions in the Seattle.area
The technique goes back to 1985 when French engineer Jean Claude Antoine needed small numbers of housings for stage lighting. The tool-less supplier with the longest track record in the USA is a New Jersey company called Plastronic Enclosures, Inc. I had a conversation this morning with President Daniel L Cucchiara who says that PEI has some unique capabilities in software, shielding and other areas. For example, PEI has equipment that can cut shapes from four foot by eight foot sheet, which gives them advantages in time and economics. Cucchiara says he welcomes the competition because it has spurred interest in the process from design engineers. CEO and Founder Patrick Oltmanns at ClickFold Plastics in Charlotte, NC, says demand is booming from OEMs who want low volumes of electronics enclosures for medical applications. ClickFold offers an excellent FAQ section that explains process capabilities. New at Toolless Plastics Solutions is the ability to produce curved pieces, using a heated roller technology deeloped by its parent company in France, LTP.
An MIT research team has invented what they see as a solution to the need for biodegradable 3D-printable materials made from something besides petroleum-based sources: a water-based robotic additive extrusion method that makes objects from biodegradable hydrogel composites.
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.
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