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.
Alcoa has unveiled a new manufacturing and materials technology for making aluminum sheet, aimed especially at automotive, industrial, and packaging applications. If all its claims are true, this is a major breakthrough, and may convince more automotive engineers to use aluminum.
NASA has just installed a giant robot to help in its research on composite aerospace materials, like those used for the Orion spacecraft. The agency wants to shave the time it takes to get composites through design, test, and manufacturing stages.
The European Space Agency (ESA) is working with architects Foster + Partners to test the possibility of using lunar regolith, or moon rocks, and 3D printing to make structures for use on the moon. A new video shows some cool animations of a hypothetical lunar mission that carries out this vision.
If there's one thing 3D printing's good for, it's customization. New Balance Athletic Shoe Company has begun using 3D printing to make customized spike plates for its running shoes made for members of its Team New Balance runners. They provide better traction and shave off a tiny bit of weight.
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