The giant Solvay Group, based in Brussels, is making a major bet on the plastics electronics business. Most recently, Solvay North America Investments led a $20.6 million financing round in which it bought a minority interest in Plextronics, a Pittsburgh-based company that has new conductive plastics technology. Plextronics envisions 15 billion printed electronic devices by 2015, using new technology developed by a Carnegie-Mellon professor that is capable of commercial scale performance. That’s where Solvay may become particularly interesting. Right now, Plextronics has no polymer manufacturing capability. Solvay has plenty, particularly in very high performance plastics. It’s too early to say now if Solvay may help in actual polymer production.
One of the goals is to produce flexible solar cells that could significantly reduce the cost to produce power from solar cells. Another potential market is printed Organic Light Emitting Diodes displays that could challenge plasma technology and liquid crystal displays. Another possible application is RFID tags.
How 3D printing fits into the digital thread, and the relationship between its uses for prototyping and for manufacturing, was the subject of a talk by Proto Labs' Rich Baker at last week's Design & Manufacturing Minneapolis.
How can automakers, aerospace contractors, and other OEMs get new metal alloys that are stronger, harder, and can survive ever higher temperatures? One way is to redesign their crystalline structures at the nanoscale and microscale.
Although a lot of the excitement about 3D printing and additive manufacturing surrounds its ability to make end-products and functional prototypes, some often ignored applications are the big improvements that can come by using it for tooling, jigs, and fixtures.
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