The new face of the North American plastics industry is emerging as companies that are focused on plastics. One of the first large companies to divest its plastics portfolio was Monsanto back in 1997 when Solutia was created. Monsanto made a decision to focus on agricultural biotechnology. Solutia filed for bankruptcy in 2003 in the midst of a major manufacturing slowdown and emerged from bankruptcy early this year. The company believes it is now stronger and more competitive than at any time in its history, hopefully setting a positive tone for other plastics orphans. Solutia posted a first quarter profit of $1.4 billion, compared to a loss of $8 million for the same quarter in 2007 because of reorganization gains. Revenues were up 40 percent. What’s important from a design engineering perspective is that Solutia, a major nylon producer, is developing new products and expanding capacity. Vydyne GW350 was announced in April and is said to offer superior toughness and elongation. Solutia is also increasing nylon 66 capacity by 140,000 metric tons. Solutia’s plant in Pensacola, FL is the world’s largest integrated nylon manufacturing facility. Solutia operates five nylon-making plants in the U.S., while its sales to Asia are growing rapidly.
Several major companies have divested part or all of their plastics portfolios in recent years, ranging from GE Plastics and Dow to Bayer. When the spin-offs become standalone companies, such as Solutia, they may face trouble raising capital in tough credit markets, such as the one we face in 2008. In fact, Solutia had to file suit against three banks that had balked at providing the company with capital needed to exit bankruptcy. Solutia needed the funds for operations and won the lawsuit.
It’s important for companies like Solutia to survive and thrive, particularly when they are producing products with a limited supply base.
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.
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