Highly porous carbon foam structures bonded with polymers such as polypropylene replace lead plates in typical vehicle batteries in a novel materials’ solution to problems with battery life and weight. The innovation comes from a company called Firefly Energy, using technology developed in the R&D Labs at Caterpillar, which was looking for a better battery for its vehicles. In the invention, carbon-graphite foam “grids” are loaded with lead oxides. The foam structure, creates huge surface-area advantages over conventional lead acid grid structures. Active material utilization levels go from the historical 20-50 percent up into the range of 70-90 percent as well as enhanced fast-recharge capability and greater high-rate / low-temperature discharge times, according to Firefly. Costs to produce energy will be higher than conventional lead acid batteries, but below other new technologies, such as lithium batteries. Firefly hopes the approach will be competitive for electric vehicles under development. North Star Battery will produce prototypes for possible use by the US Army.
Norway-based additive manufacturing company Norsk Titanium is building what it says is the first industrial-scale 3D printing plant in the world for making aerospace-grade metal components. The New York state plant will produce 400 metric tons each year of aerospace-grade, structural titanium parts.
Siemens and Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology have achieved a faster production process based on selective laser melting for speeding up the prototyping of big, complex metal parts in gas turbine engines.
BMW has already incorporated more than 10,000 3D-printed parts in the Rolls-Royce Phantom and intends to expand the use of 3D printing in its cars even more in the future. Meanwhile, Daimler has started using additive manufacturing for producing spare parts in Mercedes-Benz Trucks.
SABIC's lightweighting polycarbonate glazing materials have appeared for the first time in a production car: the rear quarter window of Toyota's special edition 86 GRMN sports car, where they're saving 50% of its weight compared to conventional glass.
Design engineers play a big role in selecting both suppliers and materials for their designs. Our most recent Design News Materials Survey says they continue to be highly involved, in some ways even more than the last time we asked to peek inside their cubicles.
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