One of Hewlett Packard’s environmental goals is use of biobased plastics. It’s a goal that goes back at least six years, and so far it’s had a rocky path. Efforts to build a printer housing from plant-based went afoul a few years ago. “The first problem we had was the polylacticacid (PLA) we used came from genetically modified crops, and that never could have been used in Europe,” comments John Frey, who chairs Hewlett Packard’s environmental strategies council. “The other problem is that they weren’t really heat stable. I took one of the pilots to a meeting in downtown Houston and then left it in my car. When I came back, the whole shell had caved in around the printer mechanism.” More recently, HP came very close to shipping a notebook with two biobased parts. The parts were withdrawn at the last moment because of other engineering concerns. Frey says HP has its eye on kenaf to see if it can add required stability as a reinforcing material.
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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