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.
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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