You’ve heard of airplanes made from carbon-fiber reinforced (CFRP) plastics. What’s next? Well there’s a sheet of carbon nanotubes—called “buckypaper”—that may create structures for another generation of airplanes. Carbon nanotubes are already being used as a filler in plastics, but only in loadings of 2 or 3 percent. Buckypaper would use significantly higher loadings. The idea of nanotube reinforced composites is not new. Nanotubes are notorious because they clump and tangle, and no one has been able to produce nanotube composites outside of a lab. Researchers hope that may be changing. Rice University in Houston, for example, has been awarded three patents that advance the technology. Lockheed Martin has been awarded another.
Professor Ben Wang and other scientists at Florida State University say they may have the answer. Exposing the tubes to high magnetism lines up the nanotubes in the same direction. Another breakthrough: creating some roughness on the surface so the nanutubes can bond to a matrix material, such as epoxy. The nanotubes in effect take the place of carbon fiber in a composite construction.
You can make extremely thin sheets with the nanotubes—thus use of the word paper. “Bucky” comes from Buckminster Fuller who envisioned shapes now called fullerenes. Stack up hundreds of sheets of the “paper” and you have a composite material that is 10 times lighter but 500 times stronger than a similar sized piece of carbon steel sheet. It’s easy to see why Lockheed Martin is interested. Unlike CFRP, carbon nanotubes conduct electricity like copper or silicon and disperse heat like steel or brass.
FSU plans to spin out a company to make carbon nanotube composites, and says it may even have some commercial products in a year. Considering that buckminsterfullerenes, or “buckyballs” were first discovered by Rice researchers in 1985, the FSU timeline may be a little optimistic. That doesn’t diminish its significance, however.
A recent report sponsored by the American Chemistry Council (ACC) focuses on emerging gasification technologies for converting waste into energy and fuel on a large scale and saving it from the landfill. Some of that waste includes non-recycled plastic.
Capping a 30-year quest, GE Aviation has broken ground on the first high-volume factory for producing commercial jet engine components from ceramic matrix composites. The plant will produce high-pressure turbine shrouds for the LEAP Turbofan engine.
Seismic shifts in 3D printing materials include an optimization method that reduces the material needed to print an object by 85 percent, research designed to create new, stronger materials, and a new ASTM standard for their mechanical properties.
A recent study finds that 3D printing is both cheaper and greener than traditional factory-based mass manufacturing and distribution. At least, it's true for making consumer plastic products on open-source, low-cost RepRap printers.
For industrial control applications, or even a simple assembly line, that machine can go almost 24/7 without a break. But what happens when the task is a little more complex? That’s where the “smart” machine would come in. The smart machine is one that has some simple (or complex in some cases) processing capability to be able to adapt to changing conditions. Such machines are suited for a host of applications, including automotive, aerospace, defense, medical, computers and electronics, telecommunications, consumer goods, and so on. This discussion will examine what’s possible with smart machines, and what tradeoffs need to be made to implement such a solution.