GM’s top buyer Bo Andersson, who is global vice president of purchasing and supply chain, made headlines recently when he commented at a press conference that “scary” increases in raw materials prices are triggering a shift from steel to plastics and aluminum to magnesium. The comments caught my attention because so much engineering goes into a materials substitution. How can you do that in the face of short-term price increases? I put calls into GM’s communications’ staff, and was referred to purchasing communications, who understandably, referred me to technical communications, who then a few days later tossed me back to purchasing communications. You can draw your own inferences from that. But I did catch up with Bo Andersson this morning, and he elaborated on his comments. First, of all, he is studying options in close collaboration with his engineering counterpart, James E. Queen, global vice president of engineering. Suppliers’ engineers are also involved, and they are using Web-based tools to facilitate communications. All of the details, with specific examples, will be reported in the Design News materials newsletter going out next week. You can sign up here.
One tidbit from the interview can’t wait: Automakers such as General Motors have moved dramatically from steel to highly engineered plastic fuel tanks in the past 20 years. Plastic offered lower weight, more design flexibility and other advantages. Even as long ago as 1993, about a quarter of passenger cars had nonmetallic fuel tanks. Andersson says that GM recently decided to allow steel fuel tanks as an option in a future program. “That’s a good example of changing the strategy before we even design the vehicles,” Andersson said in an exclusive Design News interview. “We have been using plastic fuel tanks for the last 10 years and the resin price has been going up. Secondly, we look at transportation cost, because with everything we buy, we look at best landed cost. So in short you can say that a steel fuel tank can be welded together very close to the assembly plant and now you have reduced transportation cost and that is another key driver.”
Wow. Companies pushing steel fuel tanks launched a big marketing and technology drive several years ago through the Strategic Alliance for Steel Fuel Tanks, and they never really got much traction. Multi-layer plastics systems just kept getting better and better. But the steel guys had a story too, including: 1) New steels are increasingly formable, allowing more design freedom, and 2) they are100 percent recyclable. And they are increasingly cost competitive. With a landed cost approach and ballooning hydrocarbon prices, they are even preferred on a cost basis. Andersson did not identify the new program.
A new service lets engineers and orthopedic surgeons design and 3D print highly accurate, patient-specific, orthopedic medical implants made of metal -- without owning a 3D printer. Using free, downloadable software, users can import ASCII and binary .STL files, design the implant, and send an encrypted design file to a third-party manufacturer.
A recent report sponsored by the American Chemistry Council (ACC) focuses on emerging gasification technologies for converting waste into energy and fuel on a large scale and saving it from the landfill. Some of that waste includes non-recycled plastic.
Capping a 30-year quest, GE Aviation has broken ground on the first high-volume factory for producing commercial jet engine components from ceramic matrix composites. The plant will produce high-pressure turbine shrouds for the LEAP Turbofan engine.
Seismic shifts in 3D printing materials include an optimization method that reduces the material needed to print an object by 85 percent, research designed to create new, stronger materials, and a new ASTM standard for their mechanical properties.
A recent study finds that 3D printing is both cheaper and greener than traditional factory-based mass manufacturing and distribution. At least, it's true for making consumer plastic products on open-source, low-cost RepRap printers.
For industrial control applications, or even a simple assembly line, that machine can go almost 24/7 without a break. But what happens when the task is a little more complex? That’s where the “smart” machine would come in. The smart machine is one that has some simple (or complex in some cases) processing capability to be able to adapt to changing conditions. Such machines are suited for a host of applications, including automotive, aerospace, defense, medical, computers and electronics, telecommunications, consumer goods, and so on. This discussion will examine what’s possible with smart machines, and what tradeoffs need to be made to implement such a solution.