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.
Dow Chemical and several other companies have launched a program in Omaha, Neb. to divert about 36 tons of plastics from landfills in its first phase, and convert it into energy used for cement production.
A make-your-own Star Wars Sith Lightsaber hilt is heftier and better-looking than most others out there, according to its maker, Sean Charlesworth. You can 3D print it from free source files, and there's even a hardware kit available -- not free -- so you can build one just in time for Halloween.
Some next-generation bio-based materials are superior in performance to their petro-based counterparts, but also face some commercial challenges. This is especially true of certain biopolymers, adhesives, coatings, and advanced materials.
Cars and other vehicles, as well as electronics and medical devices, continue to lead the use cases for the new plastics products we've been seeing, as engineers design products for tougher environments.
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