One of the best showcases in new plastics technology is the annual competition in automotive plastics held by the Society of Plastics Engineers. This year’s grand prize, announced last night, went to General Motors for backlighting using color-converting plastic in the Tahoe SUV. The patented system for producing custom-colored interior backlighting via LEDs (fed through light distribution pipes) uses fluorescing dyes and proprietary light-scattering additives in translucent resins used to mold buttons, knobs, and backlit plates rather than expensive custom-colored LED bulbs. The change in color control makes backlighting in low-volume, niche colors economically feasible. The system supplier is Delphi Electronics & Safety with material from RTP, BASF, and Bayer MaterialScience. The tool was made by Kno-Mar Tool in Clearwater, FL.
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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