One of the most stunning materials stories of 2007 has been the transfer of American plastics assets to oil powers in the Mideast. I’ve already written in detail about the acquisition of the iconic GE Plastics business by the Saudi Basic Industries Corp. Now comes Dow’s decision to sell half of key plastics businesses for $9.5 billion to the Kuwait Petroleum Corp. Covered were Dow’s ownership of these product groups: polyethylene, ethylenamines, ethanolamines, polypropylene, and polycarbonate. The assets will be owned by a company that will be established late next year in the United States. It will employ 5,000 people and generate about $11 billion in annual sales. Earlier this month, Dow announced plans to exit all non-automotive ABS business in the Americas. Dow divested other styrenics business and announced several other closings Dec. 4. "Today’s announcement reflects our commitment to prune businesses that are not delivering appropriate value and tackle tasks more efficiently across the entire organization … freeing up capital and resources that will be re- directed toward value-creating growth opportunities," said Andrew N. Liveris, Dow’s chairman and chief executive officer.
The moves by GE and Dow are not surprises. It may come as a surprise to users, but plastics assets have not yielded satisfactory returns on investment in recent years. GE’s corporate outlook is already looking better, and you can expect a healthier, trimmed-down Dow in 2008. It’s also not a surprise that Mideast oil powers are interested buyers of the more attractive assets. US-based properties are available at attractive prices because of the low value of the US dollar. Foreign economies are flush with dollars because of our ongoing trade deficit.
Is this bad news for the design engineering community? Decidedly not. GE Plastics made its public debut at K 2007 as Sabic Innovative Plastics. Key officials stayed on board and are talking enthusiastically about growth in several areas, including even photovoltaic cells. The plastics business had not been a favorable target as part of GE. Now it is. The Dow plastics business will benefit from an improved cost position with a significant Kuwait footprint.
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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