Bridge and other infrastructure failures have been generating significant headlines in the United States. The German state Hesse has a new idea: plastic composite bridges. Europe’s’ first road bridge made of fiber-reinforced thermoset polymer opened recently, spanning a federal highway north of Frankfurt. The initial cost of the materials is higher, but there are long-term maintenance benefits. The pultruded polymer structure is also less than one-fourth the weight of a pre-stressed concrete superstructure. It’s not a giant bridge – just 89 feet long by 16 feet wide. It weighs 80 metric tons.
Some big problems had to solved, including adhesive bonding of the sections and testing. Materials being evaluated for bridge construction include glass and carbon fibers and matrix polymers of vinyl ester, epoxy and polyester. Officials say the new German bridge, located in the town of Friedberg, is expected to last 50 years without repairs. The bridge is made of FRP polymer glued to steel sections. The bridge was prefabricated and assembled on site in one day.
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.
More and more -- that's what we'll see from plastics and composites in 2015, more types of plastics and more ways they can be used. Two of the fastest-growing uses will be automotive parts, plus medical implants and devices. New types of plastics will include biodegradable materials, plastics that can be easily recycled, and some that do both.
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