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.
An MIT research team has invented what they see as a solution to the need for biodegradable 3D-printable materials made from something besides petroleum-based sources: a water-based robotic additive extrusion method that makes objects from biodegradable hydrogel composites.
Alcoa has unveiled a new manufacturing and materials technology for making aluminum sheet, aimed especially at automotive, industrial, and packaging applications. If all its claims are true, this is a major breakthrough, and may convince more automotive engineers to use aluminum.
NASA has just installed a giant robot to help in its research on composite aerospace materials, like those used for the Orion spacecraft. The agency wants to shave the time it takes to get composites through design, test, and manufacturing stages.
The European Space Agency (ESA) is working with architects Foster + Partners to test the possibility of using lunar regolith, or moon rocks, and 3D printing to make structures for use on the moon. A new video shows some cool animations of a hypothetical lunar mission that carries out this vision.
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