I’ve been highly critical of “greenwashing” in this space where companies make environmental claims for their products that are often half-baked. I came across an effort today by Herman Miller, however, that is very impressive. Design engineers at the Michigan office furniture manufacturer have adopted cradle-to-cradle, a design protocol that advocates the elimination of waste by recycling a material or product into a new or similar product at the end of its intended life, rather than disposing of it. There are three fundamental components: 1) eliminate hazardous material chemistries, 2) design for disassembly, and 3) use recycled content to the extent possible. Some materials on the Herman Miller “hit” list are: formaldehyde-based particleboard, fiberglass, antimony oxides, PVC, some metal finishes, halogens and fluorochemicals. Wow. In some cases, Herman Miller is actively lobbying producers to make changes. The company has a great environmental glossary on its Web site.
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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