The Automotive composites Alliance is pushing thermoset plastic composites for a wide variety of applications in hybrid cars, including modules that contain the battery pack, electronic controller and wiring harness. In the US the modules are typically made of several metal stampings which are assembled. Use of composites could reduce the module to two pieces with major savings in weight as well as tooling investment. “Unlike metal, composites don’t conduct electricity, therefore providing an extra safety advantage,” says the Alliance report. “They also won’t corrode and allow integrated airflow cooling in the module’s tunnel, all adding to longer battery life.”
Artificially created metamaterials are already appearing in niche applications like electronics, communications, and defense, says a new report from Lux Research. How quickly they become mainstream depends on cost-effective manufacturing methods, which will include additive manufacturing.
SpaceX has 3D printed and successfully hot-fired a SuperDraco engine chamber made of Inconel, a high-performance superalloy, using direct metal laser sintering (DMLS). The company's first 3D-printed rocket engine part, a main oxidizer valve body for the Falcon 9 rocket, launched in January and is now qualified on all Falcon 9 flights.
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and MIT have 3D-printed a new class of metamaterials that are both exceptionally light and have exceptional strength and stiffness. The new metamaterials maintain a nearly constant stiffness per unit of mass density, over three orders of magnitude.
Smart composites that let the material's structural health be monitored automatically and continuously are getting closer to reality. R&D partners in an EU-sponsored project have demonstrated what they say is the first complete, miniaturized, fiber-optic sensor system entirely embedded inside a fiber-reinforced composite.
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