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.
These new 3D-printing technologies and printers include some that are truly boundary-breaking: a sophisticated new sub-$10,000, 10-plus materials bioprinter, the first industrial-strength silicone 3D-printing service, and a clever twist on 3D printing and thermoforming for making high-quality realistic models.
Using simulation to guide the drafting process can speed up the design and production of 3D-printed nanostructures, reduce errors, and even make it possible to scale up the structures. Oak Ridge National Laboratory has developed a model that does this.
Engineers need workhorse materials with beefy mechanical properties for industrial designs made with 3D printing. Very few have been designed from the ground up for additive manufacturing, but that picture is beginning to change.
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