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.
The 100% solar-powered airplane Solar Impulse 2 is prepping for its upcoming flight, becoming the first plane to fly around the world without using fuel. It's able to do so because of above-average performance by all of the technologies that go into it, especially materials.
As the 3D printing and overall additive manufacturing ecosystem grows, standards and guidelines from standards bodies and government organizations are increasing. Multiple players with multiple needs are also driving the role of 3DP and AM as enabling technologies for distributed manufacturing.
A growing though not-so-obvious role for 3D printing, 4D printing, and overall additive manufacturing is their use in fabricating new materials and enabling new or improved manufacturing and assembly processes. Individual engineers, OEMs, university labs, and others are reinventing the technology to suit their own needs.
For vehicles to meet the 2025 Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards, three things must happen: customers must look beyond the data sheet and engage materials supplier earlier, and new integrated multi-materials are needed to make step-change improvements.
3D printing, 4D printing, and various types of additive manufacturing (AM) will get even bigger in 2015. We're not talking about consumer use, which gets most of the attention, but processes and technologies that will affect how design engineers design products and how manufacturing engineers make them. For now, the biggest industries are still aerospace and medical, while automotive and architecture continue to grow.
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