One of the best stories at K 2007 is the effort under way at SABIC Innovative Plastics to develop new technologies that reduce use of oil and natural gas. Yes, that’s the Saudi Arabian Basic Industries Corp., partly owned by the Saudi Arabian government. SABIC Innovative Polymers is the former GE Plastics, and just became part of SABIC earlier this fall. The company is known for its application development work, and its newest development center is aimed at new ideas in energy. One of the three big projects under way is a new concept in photovoltaic cells. The SABIC unit is developing new polycarbonate chemistries that could amplify the energy-producing power of silicon used at the heart of solar cells. In interviews with Design News this morning, three SABIC executives described the effect as a “kind of light pipe”. Polycarbonate in existing solar cells simply protects the silicon with a transparent shield. The new polycarbonate would also boost the efficiency of the cell. No data on efficiency levels are available now. Rick Pontillo, general manager of global application technology, told Design News the concept could go commercial in two years if it proves out. Work began two years ago on the project, and SABIC officials are said to solidly support it.
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.
Daihatsu is one of the first carmakers to customize car exteriors using 3D printing's mass customization capabilities. Effect Skins -- small exterior bumper and fender panels in different colors and textures -- can be ordered for its Copen convertible.
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