Engineers made several errors that resulted in the Big Dig tunnel collapse two years ago. That conclusion Is not mine; it comes from Myer Ezrin, a longtime polymer failure analysis expert who studied the materials in the public docket of the investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board. “The message still hasn’t adequately penetrated enough that when engineers are dealing with new materials, they should use caution with the sources that they rely on,” says Myer Ezrin, a failure analysis expert and former researcher at the University of Connecticut’s Institute of Material Science. “Engineers working with material they have little or no experience with—particularly if it is a life and death matter as it was in the Big Dig—have to investigate the choices and then confirm that investigation.”
Artificially created metamaterials are already appearing in niche applications like electronics, communications, and defense, says a new report from Lux Research. How quickly they become mainstream depends on cost-effective manufacturing methods, which will include additive manufacturing.
SpaceX has 3D printed and successfully hot-fired a SuperDraco engine chamber made of Inconel, a high-performance superalloy, using direct metal laser sintering (DMLS). The company's first 3D-printed rocket engine part, a main oxidizer valve body for the Falcon 9 rocket, launched in January and is now qualified on all Falcon 9 flights.
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and MIT have 3D-printed a new class of metamaterials that are both exceptionally light and have exceptional strength and stiffness. The new metamaterials maintain a nearly constant stiffness per unit of mass density, over three orders of magnitude.
Smart composites that let the material's structural health be monitored automatically and continuously are getting closer to reality. R&D partners in an EU-sponsored project have demonstrated what they say is the first complete, miniaturized, fiber-optic sensor system entirely embedded inside a fiber-reinforced composite.
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