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.
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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