There are no revolutions under way in the world of engineering plastics. New materials today target very specific problems. One interesting set of materials from BASF helps to better insulate houses, as shown in a demonstration project in England. Michael Guibault, a marketing manager for BASF’s construction polymers business in North America, says architects can now design buildings that have the energy-efficiency advantages that previously only came with thicker, traditional materials. Here’s how it works: Plastic capsules are filled with a wax that absorbs and then releases energy by melting and solidifying. When used in an astronaut’s spacesuit, a soldier’s uniform, or within an interior plaster or plasterboard wall, the capsules boost the thermal capacity of the material and reduce temperature swings. "Manufacturers of interior building materials can utilize BASF’s Micronal phase-change microcapsules to create new product categories that can give them a competitive advantage," says Guibault.
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.
If there's one thing 3D printing's good for, it's customization. New Balance Athletic Shoe Company has begun using 3D printing to make customized spike plates for its running shoes made for members of its Team New Balance runners. They provide better traction and shave off a tiny bit of weight.
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