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.
An MIT research team has invented what they see as a solution to the need for biodegradable 3D-printable materials made from something besides petroleum-based sources: a water-based robotic additive extrusion method that makes objects from biodegradable hydrogel composites.
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.
Focus on Fundamentals consists of 45-minute on-line classes that cover a host of technologies. You learn without leaving the comfort of your desk. All classes are taught by subject-matter experts and all are archived. So if you can't attend live, attend at your convenience.