Based on the headlines, it may seem like aircraft construction is racing toward plastic composites, with little hope left for aluminum. Well, don’t tell that to the aluminum guys. As reported here previously, Alcoa has been developing new alloys, composites and designs. There’s another to report now: scientists at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands have received a patent for a fiber metal laminate (FML) called CentrAl reinforced aluminum. The structure includes aluminum alloys, adhesives and poly-paraphenylene terephthalamide threads. It has better tensile strength than alloys, and also boasts good metal fatigue and damage tolerance characteristics. And get this: a wing made from the composite would be one-fifth lighter than a wing made from plastic composites. The new composite has thicker laminate layers than the Glare used in the Airbus A380. The Air Force may use the material to replace wing sections in C130s. Development partners are Alcoa and GTM Advanced Structures.
As the 3D printing and overall additive manufacturing ecosystem grows, standards and guidelines from standards bodies and government organizations are increasing. Multiple players with multiple needs are also driving the role of 3DP and AM as enabling technologies for distributed manufacturing.
A growing though not-so-obvious role for 3D printing, 4D printing, and overall additive manufacturing is their use in fabricating new materials and enabling new or improved manufacturing and assembly processes. Individual engineers, OEMs, university labs, and others are reinventing the technology to suit their own needs.
For vehicles to meet the 2025 Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards, three things must happen: customers must look beyond the data sheet and engage materials supplier earlier, and new integrated multi-materials are needed to make step-change improvements.
3D printing, 4D printing, and various types of additive manufacturing (AM) will get even bigger in 2015. We're not talking about consumer use, which gets most of the attention, but processes and technologies that will affect how design engineers design products and how manufacturing engineers make them. For now, the biggest industries are still aerospace and medical, while automotive and architecture continue to grow.
More and more -- that's what we'll see from plastics and composites in 2015, more types of plastics and more ways they can be used. Two of the fastest-growing uses will be automotive parts, plus medical implants and devices. New types of plastics will include biodegradable materials, plastics that can be easily recycled, and some that do both.
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