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.
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.
If there's one thing 3D printing's good for, it's customization. New Balance Athletic Shoe Company has begun using 3D printing to make customized spike plates for its running shoes made for members of its Team New Balance runners. They provide better traction and shave off a tiny bit of weight.
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