1. Tough economic conditions will force greater efforts to reduce cost and improve product effectiveness through accelerated design engineering. Value engineering processes took a back seat when business was booming. Now efforts will be redoubled to find more efficient assembly systems and more cost-effective materials.
2. Injection molding will gain more attention as a design tool, for plastics, metals and ceramics. Advances in materials, simulation and processing technology make injection molding more feasible for difficult (e.g. high temperature) applications. There will be growing emphasis on molders who offer design support and advanced technology, as other molders fall by the wayside.
3. Weight reduction efforts in cars will get far more serious as OEMs such as General Motors finish materials engineering for electric cars, such as the Chevy Volt. The short-term winners will be known materials solutions (e.g., forged aluminum wheels) rather than exotic and very expensive solutions (e.g., large scale use of carbon fiber composites).
4. Medical engineering will rise in importance as OEMs continue to move away from low-margin manufacturing. The troubles in the car industry received huge press in 2008, but this is a trend established more than 20 years ago.
5. The Japanese companies will lead in new engineering applications for plastics using natural feedstocks in place of hydrocarbons. Sixty per cent of the interior components of Toyota’s new hybrid will be made from plant-based plastics. Parts include scuff plates, headliners, and seat cushions.
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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