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.
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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