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.
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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