New evidence of the stunning decline of the North American injection molding industry seems to gain speed almost daily. I reported earlier on the proposed sale of GE Plastics and the large layoffs at Milacron. This is on top of bankruptcies at leading Tier One suppliers and auctions of molding machinery. Now there is news that Bob Schad is putting Husky Injection Molding systems up for sale. Schad was a skilled tool builder who built Husky from the ground up as a technology leader and blue-chip company. Its original forte was very sophisticated systems to produce PET performs. Husky later branched into injection molding, and was a major player in stack molding and other high-productivity systems. The word is that Schad is disgusted by very low valuations of Husky on the Canadian Stock Exchange. Prices of shares jumped 20% when news of the sale broke. None of this is good news for the design engineering community. GE Plastics, Milacron and Husky were among the very best companies in the field, and important innovators. Outsourcing to China is only partly to blame. There is a growing lack of appreciation of total value when many companies make purchasing decisions. CEOs are driving companies to short-term profit gains through extensive use of processes such as electronic reverse auctions. We will pay a heavy price.
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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