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 lightweight electric urban concept car designed by several European companies weighs only 992 lb without its battery. It would have weighed 26.7 lb more if its windows were made of glass instead of the specially coated LEXAN polycarbonate resin from SABIC Innovative Plastics.
Skylar Tibbits' team in MIT's Self-Assembly Lab is now 4D printing self-assembling shapes made of programmable carbon composites and custom wood grain. The composites are being used in a sport car airfoil, and the wood grain is beautiful.
The NanoSteel Company has produced high-hardness ferrous metal matrix composite (MMC) parts using a new nanosteel powder in a one-step 3D-printing process. Parts are 99.9% dense, crack-free, and with wear resistance comparable to M2 tool steels.
The company that brought you 3D-printed eyeglasses has launched both an improved clear polymer material for 3D printing optical components and a high-speed, precision, 3D-printing process for making small- and medium-sized batches in a few days.
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