Thirty years ago, the American steel industry went through an experience similar to today’s crisis in Detroit. I remember writing a page one story for the New York Times in 1977 about a stunning third-quarter loss at Bethlehem Steel, which announced plans to close mills in Johnstown, PA and Lackawanna, NY. Many of the great old names of American steel, like Bethlehem, National, Armco, and J&L, all disappeared. Their assets closed or were bought and improved. Only United States Steel survived as a corporate entity, albeit a very different one. There were many cries of despair, in particular that we needed a domestic steel industry for national defense. But there was no bail-out. The American steel industry re-emerged, pretty quickly really, in a new form. Entrepreneurs launched new mills that operated with electric furnaces fed with scrap. In general, the industry became more customer focused, and less production focused. American steel is very competitive today.
The auto industry needs to go through the same economic Darwinian process.
A slew of announcements about new materials and design concepts for transportation have come out of several trade shows focusing on plastics, aircraft interiors, heavy trucks, and automotive engineering. A few more announcements have come independent of any trade shows, maybe just because it's spring.
At the JEC Europe 2015 composites show in Paris last month, makers of composite materials, software, and process equipment showed off their latest innovations. This year's show saw some announcements related to automotive applications, but many of the improvements came in the world of aerospace.
The DuPont-sponsored Plastics Industry Trends survey shows engineers want improved performance in a broad range of plastics and better recycling technology. These concerns top even processing enhancements that improve productivity.
Plastics leader SABIC recently announced a global initiative to help its customers take advantage of additive manufacturing (AM) and also advance 3D printing (3DP) technologies in several application areas. The company's plans go way beyond materials, and also include design, processing, and part performance.
A theme that was reflected in several ways at NPE 2015 was the use of 3D printing to assist in, or improve on, injection molding, as well as improvements in 3D printing materials and processes that are making better functional prototypes and end-use parts.
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